Let me tell you story about a bicycle race:
In 2006, professional cycling had reached the pinnacle of its popularity. Lance Armstrong had left the sport having amazingly won his seventh straight Tour de France. The Tour de France became the centerpiece of the Outdoor Life Network. Cycling was almost considered "mainstream." It was definitely considered cool.
Nothing could have made it cooler than the jaw-dropping performance in the 2006 race by an American rider name Floyd Landis on Stage 17 of the 20 stage race.
Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, once a teammate of Landis's, held a lead of more than eight minutes going into Stage 17 when Landis stunned the cycling world with a 120 km solo breakaway attack that at the time was called "one of the most epic days of cycling ever seen." At one point, Landis was 9 minutes 4 seconds clear of Pereiro. Landis ultimately won the stage by nearly six minutes, taking more than seven minutes out of Pereiro's lead. The near-miraculous performance spurred Landis onto a Tour de France victory. Pereiro finished 57 seconds behind Landis in the final standings.
Landis celebrated for three days before learning he had tested positive for suspicious levels of testosterone. The Swiss-based International Cycling Union (UCI) released the positive results of Landis's "A" sample from his Stage 17 drug test, one of several tests Landis took during the Tour. The "A" test showed a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio of 11-1; the permissible level is 4-1.
Two weeks later, UCI announced that the second, "B" sample of Landis's urine showed an abnormally high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, just as the first sample had.
Landis would be the first cyclist to forfeit a Tour title because of doping. It would also be the first time in the 105-year history of the race that a winner has been stripped of the title.
The Outdoor Life Network canceled its planned recap show, calling it "no longer relevant."
Landis immediately issued a denial. "We will explain to the world why this is not a doping case, but a natural occurrence" -- that the testosterone in his body was "natural and produced by my own organism." Subsequently, Landis and his spokespeople put forth a variety of reasons, at various times, for his positive drug test: naturally high testosterone, drinking alcohol, dehydration, thyroid medication, and a conspiracy against him. His formal defense ultimately criticized testing methodology and execution.
The variety of explanations offered up by Landis provided fodder for satirists such as David Letterman, who presented the "Top 10 Floyd Landis Excuses" on his show.
But Oscar Pereiro wasn't laughing. He had to endure months and months of soap-opera like hearings, which included the sordid affair of Landis's camp threatening Greg LeMond that if he testified against Landis they would publicly disclose that LeMond had been sexually molested as a child; something LeMond once shared in confidence with Landis.
Finally, almost a year later, Pereiro stood on the top step of a podium with his winner's jersey, not along the Champs-Elysees as a normal champion would but in the staid offices of Spain's Sport Ministry.
A bereft Pereiro tried to come to grips with it all:
"These emotions, it is impossible to feel them in a ceremony like this one, which is organized so that everyone understands and sees that Oscar Pereiro is the winner of the Tour [...] The moment I received the profit of my work, I had mixed feelings, something between satisfaction and regret for what we were deprived of. [...] The day on the podium could have been the best day of my life. I would have liked to have lived that day."
But Floyd Landis still wouldn't let Pererio have his day. He raised money, raised a stink and appealed his conviction to the highest court of sports. Yesterday, after another year gone by and millions of dollars spent on both sides of the argument, a three-person panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a previous panel's decision, ruling Landis's positive doping test during the Tour two years ago was, indeed, valid. In a scathing rebuke, the court ordered Landis to pay $100,000 toward the legal fees of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. It was the most expensive anti-doping case in history.
Yet Landis remains unrepentant:
"I am saddened by today's decision. I am looking into my legal options and deciding on the best way to proceed."
And Oscar Pereiro remains forever denied. What must have gone through his mind as he watched Landis super-humanly overtake him on Stage 17? What strange despair has been uniquely his these past two years? What kind of queasy, mixed feelings must have been his about finally receiving the yellow jacket so long after the race? Above all, how he must lament the irretrievable loss of not experiencing that championship moment for which he had worked so hard -- which he had earned. Indeed, what does is feel like to know you were the best man in the biggest race but nobody really knows it? They never mention your name but for two years they can't stop mentioning his.
It's been two bloody years. I'd like to know: What does Floyd Landis owe Oscar Pereiro?