What led disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis, who spent three and a half years after his 2006 Tour de France victory denying he doped, to not only backpedal on his story in May, but accuse onetime teammate Lance Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs?
Armstrong’s associates suggest that Landis launched his campaign against the seven-time Tour winner after Armstrong rejected Landis’s efforts to make a comeback. Johan Bruyneel—the manager of Armstrong’s Radio Shack cycling team, which was assembled in July 2009—tells NEWSWEEK that Landis contacted him last October or November seeking a spot. Bruyneel says he turned Landis away because of his reputation as a doper. “I told him it would be a bad PR move” that could damage the new team’s efforts to win entry into the 2010 Tour, Bruyneel says.
In April, a few weeks before Landis went public with his revelations, organizers of the Tour of California, a major U.S. race, denied entry to a team Landis had joined (it said the team didn’t have enough of a track record). Tour director Andrew Messick says that two days before the news was announced, Landis unexpectedly asked him to lunch. Landis, says Messick, said he planned to confess to doping and talked about other cyclists’ drug use, including Armstrong’s. Messick says that at the lunch Landis made no threat about publicly implicating others in doping. But a few weeks later Landis and a friend began e-mailing Messick and others, pleading that his team be allowed into the race—and hinting that damaging revelations about doping by Armstrong and others might be forthcoming. In late May, Landis publicly confirmed that he also e-mailed cycling and anti-doping authorities, confessing his own drug abuse and outlining allegations about Armstrong and other cyclists. (Armstrong denies all doping accusations.)
Armstrong lawyer Tim Herman says that “ ‘shakedown’ would be an appropriate description” for Landis’s actions in the wake of the rejections. “It all had to do with his effort to secure a place on the Radio Shack team ... It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to figure out that if we had simply hired him, none of this would have happened.” In an e-mail exchange with NEWSWEEK, however, Landis writes that, while “I have in the past asked for jobs from many teams,” he “never made any threats about what I would do if I did not get a job. My coming clean was about doing what is right, and while I should have done it sooner, certainly nothing that anyone would have done would have changed my mind about doing it.” Landis also writes that if Armstrong’s lawyers thought he was attempting to extort their client, they should have gone to the authorities. Herman says, “We have no interest in prosecuting Floyd Landis … Filing a complaint with criminal authorities is not a very efficient use of Lance’s time or energy.”
(After this story was completed for NEWSWEEK's print edition, we ran across an e-mail from Floyd Landis to Johan Bruyneel showing that Landis in fact first contacted Bruyneel on September 9, 2009 regarding a place on the Radio Shack cycling team. In the e-mail to Bruyneel, entitled "Give me a Call", Landis wrote: "I'd like to know if there is any possibility of riding with you guys next year. Hope you are well. Thanks. Floyd.")