Monday, November 29, 2010

Should we listen to Landis?

Since Floyd Landis lied resolutely for four years about his involvement in dope, should we suddenly believe him today when he alleges that other cyclists were fueled by chemical products? When asked this obvious rhetorical question, Landis himself says, somewhat curiously, that he no longer really cares whether people believe him or not.

After seeing a revealing interview on French TV yesterday, I would say that, in my opinion, there's maybe a 20% chance that he's providing the sporting world with explosive facts, and four chances out of five that he's a sick nut case. But, whatever the likelihood of their turning out to be fables (which might never be proved or disproved), his allegations are so enormous that it's hardly surprising that they're being followed up earnestly, particularly in the context of Lance Armstrong, by US dope authorities.

Some of the tales told by Landis have a surrealist flavor, like events in a poorly-conceived script for a crime movie. For example, he explained that blood for later transfusions was collected from riders before the start of the Tour de France, and then stored in Floyd's refrigerator at his country house in Spain. He claimed that the only danger was, not so much the possibility of an intruder discovering all this blood in the kitchen, but rather an electricity outage. Then there's his description of what would happen in the team's bus prior to the start of a race.

Now, I've often observed at close range the huge buses used by professional cycling teams, parked in an enclosure near the starting line of a stage. It's a fact that such a vehicle—with smoked-glass windows and drawn curtains—looks like an opaque impenetrable fortress: the mobile out-of-bounds territory of a foreign embassy, with guards at the door. The scene described by Landis, evoking a military hospital, is truly grotesque. All nine members of the team would sit down and receive a transfusion, lasting a quarter of an hour, of their own blood. This vision of nine athletes, lounging simultaneously on reclining chairs while blood is dripping into their bodies from suspended plastic bags, is quite nightmarish. Landis, retrospectively, considers that this was business as usual. "It was routine, there was no debate to be made, we all knew we would do it. It was part of the job, it was a trivial thing." Frankly, I'm less inclined than ever to imagine that scene as real.

Later on in the interview, Landis makes huge accusations concerning specific individuals. "In the peloton, everyone knows that Pat McQuaid, Hein Verbruggen and other leaders of the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] protected some riders and not others during the past 20 years. It was their way of manipulating and creating stars."

We used to see photos of Floyd Landis in the context of his Pennsylvania village of Farmersville, comprised of 200 God-fearing souls who practised the archaic Mennonite religion.

Many observers would say that the religious upbringing of Floyd Landis could not possibly have anything to do with his subsequent behavior in the world of professional cycling.

Others would claim that this upbringing would have normally instilled in him a respect for moral principles and righteousness. My own opinions on communities of this kind (about which I know little) are that there are loose screws somewhere along the line, and that you never know what might happen.

For example, there's a custom known as Rumspringa, concerning Amish and Mennonite youths, which might be described roughly as "fucking around for a few years while you're deciding what to do next, prior to making up your mind about whether you should calm down and enter the fold". In theory, it's not a bad idea… but the effectiveness of this technique depends on how far you run amok, for how long, and with what possibly disastrous consequences. I've often wondered whether Floyd Landis might have descended into a protracted state of Rumspringa, from which he doesn't know how to emerge.

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