SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Floyd Landis, the cyclist who had denied doping for years despite being stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for failing a drug test, went to a lunch meeting in April 2010 with the director of the Tour of California cycling race.
As they sat down at a table at the Farm of Beverly Hills restaurant in Los Angeles, Landis placed a tape recorder between them and pressed record.
Landis finally wanted to tell the truth: He had doped through most of his professional career. He was recording his confessions so he would later have proof that he had blown the whistle on the sport.
“How do you expect people to believe you when you lied for so long?” Andrew Messick, the race director, asked Landis. “Have you told your mother? Have you told Travis Tygart?”
Landis, raised as a Mennonite, said he had not yet told his mother. Nor had he told Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, with whom he had clashed for more than two years as Landis publicly fought his doping case.
But, Landis said, it was time.
“Lance Armstrong never came up,” Messick said in an interview last week. “But he did make a comment on the Mafia. He said, When you’re in the Mafia and you get caught and go to jail, you keep your mouth shut, and the organization takes care of your family. In cycling, you’re expected to keep your mouth shut when you test positive, but you become an outcast. Everyone just turns their back on you.”
Antidoping officials on multiple continents had pursued Armstrong for years, in often quixotic efforts that died at the wall of silence his loyal teammates built around him as the sport’s global king. Armstrong kept the dark side of his athletic success quiet, investigators and cyclists said, by using guile and arm-twisting tactics that put fear in those who might cross him.
But the lunch conversation between Landis and Messick would eventually be seen as the first significant crack in Armstrong’s gilded foundation, a critical turning point in antidoping officials’ quest to penetrate the code of secrecy that endured in cycling.
It set in motion a series of events that led to the stark revelation that Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, and his United States Postal Service team were engaged in what antidoping officials called the most sophisticated doping program in history — one covered up by cyclists who banded together to protect themselves, one another and the ugly, deceitful underbelly of the sport.
Armstrong, who vehemently denies ever doping, in August stopped fighting the charges the antidoping agency brought against him. Last week, in the wake of antidoping officials’making public their evidence in the case, Armstrong stepped down as the chairman of his cancer foundation and lost nearly all his endorsements — a decline so unceremonious and severe that a precedent in recent sports history is elusive.
On Monday, cycling’s world governing body is expected to announce whether it will appeal the antidoping agency’s ruling to bar Armstrong for life from Olympic sports, a decision Armstrong has called unfair and flawed. If the group does not appeal, Tour de France organizers will officially strip Armstrong of his Tour titles.
Interviews with more than a dozen riders, their wives, lawyers involved in the case, antidoping officials and team executives revealed that Armstrong’s undoing was the culmination of an inquiry that played out over more than two years — but that drastically turned over the course of several weeks this spring as more and more cyclists contributed their own damning stories to the investigation.
At that point, antidoping officials hardly had an airtight case. Tygart was hurriedly approaching cyclists from Armstrong’s United States Postal Service teams.
“Look, the system of doping in the sport is coming down, and all the riders, including Lance Armstrong, are going to be given an opportunity to get on the lifeboat,” he told them. “Are you on it?”
Rider after rider asked, “Am I going to be the only one?”
It would take months for them to find out.