Friday May 18th, 2007

MALIBU, Calif. -- During a late recess in yesterday's Floyd Landis arbitration hearing at Pepperdine University's law school, I fell into conversation with Landis's father, Paul, who'd been unaware, until I told him, that he bore a strong resemblance to hockey legend Scotty Bowman.

As the tide of events had turned swiftly against his son earlier in the session, I noticed that Paul immersed himself more and more deeply in a book. It was a paperback New Life Bible.

"Sometimes things come up and there's nowhere to turn," he explained, "and the Word is such a comfort."

His voice cracked. "I was just talking to Will" during the recess, "and of course we love and forgive him, but there's a mark that will never be erased."

He was talking about Will Geoghegan, Floyd's just-fired business manager, who'd been busted for witness tampering, then publicly sacked during the hearing -- who had single-handedly transformed an arid, science-intensive proceeding into a tabloid-worthy carnival.

"I don't know if he was with anyone or not," Paul continued, sadly. "But it doesn't really matter. He should have known better."

In fact, it matters quite a bit, since it could determine whether only Geoghegan is prosecuted for what is a crime.

If Floyd Landis had any of that Jack Daniels left over from last summer, I'm thinking it was gone by this morning.

Until Greg LeMond walked into the courtroom on Thursday, Team Landis had been holding its own against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Eight months after tests indicated that he cheated to win the '06 Tour de France, the cyclist was taking the fight to his accusers.

That was Team Landis' strategy against the French lab analysts who'd testified over the previous two days. And it was certainly the plan for LeMond, who joined the proceedings after yesterday's lunch recess. During his abortive attempt to cross-examine the three-time Tour de France winner, Landis attorney Howard Jacobs made it clear that he intended to depict the 46-year-old as an embittered former champion, a has-been whose public criticisms of Landis were motivated by jealousy. The idea was to diminish LeMond, cut him down to size.

But after riveting the courtroom with testimony that can only be described as courageous -- LeMond spoke publicly for the first time about being sexually abused as a child -- the witness was elevated in stature. It was Team Landis that came off looking small.

Just as he attacked early in Stage 17 of last year's Tour, Landis went on the offensive against USADA. The idea behind his groundbreaking "wiki-defense" -- posting documents related to his hearing on FloydLandis.com and FloydFairnessFund.com; by inviting readers to wade through Landis-related files from the World Anti Doping Agency, for instance -- was to bring transparency to what has always been an opaque process. Even if this three-man panel rules against Landis -- the deck seems a bit stacked in these arbitrations, which is why USADA has never lost a case -- Landis's public, his fans, would know the truth. Landis could lose the arbitration but win in the court of public opinion.

But it's tough to put a positive spin on things when one of your team members is impersonating a pedophile to blackmail a witness.

The hearing is expected to go on through May 23. Landis's lawyers will continue to try and chip away at the credibility and competence of the analysts at the Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage in France. Thursday morning it was Claire Frelat's turn to be cross-examined by the courteous, brilliant and vaguely predatory Maurice Suh, the Team Landis lawyer who quickly determined that Frelot had been a student until 2001; that she only became qualified to conduct tests on the lab's Isotope Ration Mass Spectrometry machine in February 2006 -- five months before the Tour de France.

Suh wondered if that was "because the LNDD had not determined you were ready?"

"Because I was in training period," she replied, frostily.

Frelat casually admitted knowing that the "B" sample she was testing belonged to Landis, which would seem to violate WADA codes that require such testing to be "blind." (USADA's rule on confidentiality is looser, but the revelation was still surprising). Later in the morning, reviewing some of Frelat's work from last April, Suh focused on logs that showed time gaps in the process, hinting darkly at the possibility of data manipulation. She took exception to Suh's contention that she was arbitrary in choosing "the peaks on the chromatogram."

I did not have an opinion on Frelat's aptitude, or lack thereof, at discerning the peak on the chromatogram. This being my first day at the hearing, I understood up to one-twentieth of the science talk.

Reading the despair on my face at one point, Jason Sumner of VeloNews bade me "Welcome to hell."

He had no way of knowing that this hearing -- in and of itself a testament to a sport that is broken and on its knees -- would soon bring cycling to a tawdry new low. Cycling has seen dopers of every stripe. Until this week, it had not seen an instance of witness tampering so blatant and crude that it would have been dismissed as implausible by the writers of The Sopranos.

LeMond was called to testify about a phone conversation he'd had with Landis on Aug. 6, just after the positive B sample was released.

If he had doped, but came clean, LeMond told Landis, he could "singlehandedly change the sport. You could be the one to salvage the sport."

To which Landis replied, according to LeMond, "What good would it do ... If I did it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people."

It was then that LeMond confided in Landis a dark secret that he'd shared with very few people. Now, in the witness chair, he composed himself and shared it with the world.

"I said I haven't told this to many people, but I was sexually abused before I got into cycling, and it nearly destroyed me by keeping it a secret." If Landis had doped and tried to keep it a secret for the rest of his life, "this will destroy you," he said.

USADA attorney Matt Barnett then raised the subject of a hostile post Landis left on a cycling Web site last November, in which he took issue with LeMond's public comments about his case. "If he ever opens his mouth again and the word Floyd comes out, I will tell you all some things that you will wish you didn't know and unfortunately I will have entered the race to the bottom which is now in progress."

That veiled threat paled beside the events of Wednesday evening. As LeMond stood outside his hotel room in Malibu, he got a call from a stranger who greeted him thusly: "Hi Greg. This is your uncle."

"Who is this?" replied LeMond.

"This is your uncle, and I'm gonna be there tomorrow."

"Who is this?"

"I'm gonna be there, and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie."

The words look innocuous as I type them. I can't fathom how disturbing they would be for a sex-abuse victim being addressed by a stranger in the parlance of a predator.

"I got the picture right away," LeMond went on. "I figured this was intimidation, to keep me from coming here."

The caller's number was captured in LeMond's phone, and turned out to belong to Geoghegan, a former training partner and mountain biking teammate of Landis, whose V02 Max, apparently, exceeds his IQ. When LeMond finished telling his story to a rapt courthouse, Geoghegan was asked to stand, Landis and his lawyers seemed genuinely blindsided: after a recess, Suh announced to the panel that "As of today, as of right now," Geoghegan had been fired.

As he left the courtroom, Geoghegan crossed LeMond's path and appeared to speak to him again. "As I was leaving," LeMond later confirmed, [Geoghegan] "admitted that he called me, and tried to apologize."

LeMond did not appear to be in a forgiving mood. "I plan on pursuing this through the police," he went on. (He'd already filed a police report at his hotel). "It was a real threat."

Asked if held Landis responsible, LeMond did not say no. "I think if you read what he posted about me, I think there's another side of Floyd that the public has not seen."

For years, LeMond had been a kind of velo-Cassandra, pointing out the implausibility of the performances of modern riders, lamenting the ubiquity of drugs in cycling, seldom railing to mention that he won his three Tours clean.

It got to be a tedious shtick during the Reign of Lance Armstrong, a sour grapes sidebar. But as the curtain has been pulled back on this sport in recent years -- as we glimpse at what actually goes into this pharmaceutically enhanced sausage factory -- LeMond has been largely vindicated.

"I care passionately about cycling, he declared after Thursday's testimony. My son just got into bike riding last year, he's got me riding again."

Now that he mentions it, LeMond is looking a little leaner than he has in past public appearances. At the same time, his stature has increased. It took a big man to do what he did.

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