Landis loses Tour sponsor

Published August 6, 2006

PARIS (AP) - The Tour de France no longer calls him champion. His cycling team cut him loose.

About the only chance Floyd Landis has of keeping his prized yellow jersey will now likely be decided by an appeals process that could drag on for months.

Landis was discredited and disowned in short order Saturday when elevated levels of testosterone showed up in his "B" or second doping sample - as it did in the initial "A" sample released last week.

The samples also contained synthetic testosterone, indicating that it came from an outside source.

If stripped of the title, Landis would become the first winner in the 103-year history of cycling's premier race to lose his Tour crown over doping allegations.

Landis again denied cheating.

"I have never taken any banned substance, including testosterone," he said in a statement. "I was the strongest man at the Tour de France, and that is why I am the champion.

"I will fight these charges with the same determination and intensity that I bring to my training and racing. It is now my goal to clear my name and restore what I worked so hard to achieve."

The International Cycling Union, the sport's governing body, said it would ask USA Cycling to open disciplinary proceedings. Documentation from the positive tests will be forwarded to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which will turn it over to a review panel. USADA will ultimately decide if a penalty - likely a two-year ban - is appropriate. Landis can accept the decision or begin an appeals process, which can take up to six months and involve the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest said Landis would officially remain Tour champion pending that process. The decision to strip him of his title rests with UCI.

"Until he is found guilty or admits guilt, he will keep the yellow jersey," he said. "This is normal. You are not sanctioned before you are found guilty."

But the Tour itself wasted no time in distancing itself from the American.

"It goes without saying that for us Floyd Landis is no longer the winner of the 2006 Tour de France," race director Christian Prudhomme told The Associated Press.

Prudhomme said runner-up Oscar Pereiro likely would be declared the new winner.

"We can't imagine a different outcome," he said.

Reached in his hometown of Vigo, Spain, Pereiro saw it shaping up that way, too.

"Now I consider myself the winner," he said, while acknowledging that the final decision was up to the UCI and subject to a legal challenge by Landis.

Pereiro said he regretted not being able to celebrate properly - in Paris, wearing the winner's yellow jersey.

"I would have liked to have lived that day; it would have been the best day of my life as a sportsman," he said.

Pereiro also felt badly for Landis.

"I consider him my friend. It surprised me and hurt me to hear what had happened to him," he said.

The results of the second test come just two weeks after Landis, a 30-year-old former mountain biker, proudly stood atop the winner's podium on the Champs-Elysees, waving to thousands who cheered him on.

Within 45 minutes of the "B" sample announcement, the Swiss-based team Phonak fired its captain for "violating the teams internal Code of Ethics."

Phonak stood by Tyler Hamilton throughout his blood-doping case two years ago; Landis, however, is getting no support.

"This will be his personal affair, and the Phonak team will no longer be involved," a statement said.

Testosterone, a male sex hormone, helps build muscle and improve stamina. The urine tests were done July 20 after Landis' stage 17 victory during a grueling Alpine leg, when he regained nearly eight minutes against then-leader Pereiro - and went on to win the three-week race.

Both of Landis's "A" and "B" samples turned up a testosterone/epitestosterone ratio of 11:1 - far in excess of the 4:1 limit.

Jacques De Ceaurriz, the Chatenay-Malabray chief, said the synthetic testosterone was found in isotope testing.

"It's foolproof. This analysis tells the difference between endogenous and exogenous," he told the AP. "No error is possible in isotopic readings."