Professional cycling will never be the same. Two of the sport's icons, Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis, are competing head-to-head in a doping war that’s taken four years, considerable money, and generated very bad press for both camps.
After years of denying he's been doping (including a 2006 New York Times magazine cover story), Landis has finally admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, specifically synthetic testosterone, during the 2006 Tour de France, and for much of his professional road cyclist career.
In an interview with ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford, Landis talks about his desire to clear his conscience about his doping past. As for Lance Armstrong’s response, which you can watch above, he states: "I have nothing to hide ... history speaks for itself here. It's his word versus ours ... we like our word, we like our credibility."
Armstrong says he will not take legal action against Landis, as it would drain time, energy, money, and take him away from his family and his Livestrong Foundation. The World Anti-Doping Agency will, however, investigate.
“I don't feel guilty at all about having doped," Landis stated. "I did what I did because that's what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there, and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step. My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don't do it and I tell people I just don't want to do that, and I decided to do it."
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Landis e-mails focused on American riders who routinely underwent blood transfusions, took synthetic blood booster Erythropoietin, or EPO, and used steroids – all illegal in professional cycling.
Details of the battle between Landis and Armstrong, now well-documented, are sending ripples through the sports world. Pat McQuaid, International Cycling Union (UCI) president called Landis' allegations "scandalous and mischievous." But more to the point, he said in a phone interview with the Associated Press, "These guys coming out now with things like this from the past is only damaging the sport. If they've any love for the sport they wouldn't do it."
Landis said of his decision to come forward, "I want to clear my conscience. I don't want to be part of the problem anymore.” Armstrong, meanwhile, held an impromptu press conference Thursday at the Tour of California and said the claims are "not even worth getting into.”
The biggest losers are sports fans around the world – who lionize athletes for their excellence and acumen – holding them above the average Joe or Jane. Perhaps that’s the real culprit here: unrealistic expectations.
It's also a blow for the sport of cycling, particularly with the Tour de France (which starts July 3rd) struggling for U.S. viewers and brand sponsorship.
On the heels of Andre Agassi's recent autobiography Open, in which he admits using crystal meth in 1997 and lying about it after a failed drug test, this latest scandal increasingly moves the controversy from an individual to a collective level.
Former Olympic sprinter Marion Jones is reinventing her career after a prison sentence for lying to federal prosecutors about her drug use. She’s just signed a contract with the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock.
“This is an opportunity for me to realize a dream, an opportunity for me to share my message of hope, of second chances," Jones has said. "But redemption doesn’t creep into the equation for me. This is the new part of my journey.”
As for the Landis-Armstrong battle, the fans await the next part of a difficult journey for two more athletes juggling super-human prowess with very human weakness – and all in the unrelenting and very public arena of social media.