I’m not really a sports fan. I enjoy engaging in sports, to be sure, but I just can’t find it within myself to care all that much about the sports exploits of others. I know that Hank Aaron has the home run record, Nottingham Forest is a shadow of its former self, and that any decent person ought to hate the Yankees on general principle. And that’s about it. So I don’t follow any teams, I don’t know anyone’s stats, and I don’t really understand why anyone else would.
But Floyd Landis fascinates me. See, despite what I said above, I ended up watching the Tour de France this past summer. The whole thing, every day. And what Floyd Landis did on Stage 17 was something beyond sport, for me. Beautiful. Shocking. Inspiring. There aren’t enough superlatives, I think. And being a cyclist who has had to deal with some serious orthopedic issues, too (both descriptions being an order of magnitude less accurate for me than him, admittedly), I have to say that I found something very personally satisfying about witnessing his accomplishment.
Seeing that accomplishment thrown into question immediately after the Tour was extraordinarily disappointing. Enough so that I wanted to make sure that I understood exactly why I was being disappointed – had I just been drawn in by another doper, like countless other sports fans? So I followed the exact claims pretty closely, reinforced my belief that Dick Pound should be unemployed, and read Landis’ Wiki Defense with great interest. While I don’t think that Landis has a solid affirmative defense against the WADA charges, I don’t think he needs one. In fact, the WADA charges were bunk in the first place. If WADA is actually interested in controlling doping in cycling, and the Landis case is any indication of how seriously it takes that effort, cycling is screwed. And Floyd Landis, (un)fortunately, is one of the few in a position to really make that case, and push for change.
So, in short, I think Landis is doing important work in publicly pushing his case. Which brings me to last night. As CyclingNews put it:
[Last night,] Floyd Landis met cycling fans in an intimate, town-hall style gathering. His goals were to raise money for the recently launched Floyd Fairness Fund (FFF) and to enable local members of the cycling community to directly interact with him.
Landis spoke to an audience of about 130 people for less than ten minutes before he fielded questions from attendees, most of whom were members of the local cycling community. The event was not publicized to the media in advance, but word spread quickly through the cycling community.
I got a chance to ask him about the big picture – putting aside the details of his case, what does WADA need to do to be fair and effective in controlling doping in cycling? Landis said he didn’t really have an answer, but that he did think that WADA’s having absolutely no interest in the sport of cycling was a big part of the problem. He paired that with acknowledging that if WADA was too interconnected with cycling, we’d have a rubberstamp body that no one trusted. When I suggested that firing Dick Pound might be a start, he said, “Do you mean, have him killed?” :)
Other comments from Landis:
- He “feels bad for the Tour” itself. He said that the organizers (who have not been kind to him, in the press) have just said what they needed to say, and that he’s got some sympathy – just as he didn’t get a proper victory celebration, they didn’t get one, either.
- He’s still riding with Dave Z, who’s a great rider who has “no problem with the pedaling part – it’s just the staying on his bike that he’s got trouble with.”
- Prefacing it with “Well, I don’t have any friends left anyway”, he tells us that he thinks Patrick Lefevere makes Pat “Beware the Mafia Nations!” McQuaid look like a genius. Now that’s saying something.
- If he were a rider who wasn’t implicated, he’d be afraid to speak out on the doping control issue. He doesn’t think that anyone can take his side without putting himself at risk from retribution by a very closed system.
- He didn’t know it would be that easy to scare Lance out of a race (referring to the Leadville 100). Maybe he should enter the next marathon, too? He might also be entering the Shenandoah Mountain 100, which I hope he’ll do (because that will make sure I train adequately for it, and don’t talk myself out of it a few weeks before it happens).
- His current garage: one each of a road bike, time trial bike, and a mountain bike. (Which means that I’ve somehow convinced myself that I need more bikes than the Tour champ. Hmm.)
The evening itself was great, and if he comes to your town and you care at all about cycling, I suggest you try to make it. About 130 people showed (either $25 in advance, or $35 at the door). There was something of a silent auction (~$250 for a signed poster, $875 for a signed yellow jersey), and an auction of a signed bottle of Jack Daniels (which went for $375 – I dropped out sub $200). He also signed most anything that was presented to him, and was very accessible and chatty in general.
While this was a hastily organized affair (notice of it only went out to cyclists on Monday, and no media announcement), I get the impression that it might be the first of many. I imagine that any schedule would be announced on the Floyd Fairness Fund website. If you’re interested in reading more analysis of the underlying doping claims, Trust But Verify is a great resource.