Landis fighting to avoid ban from racing

STONE MOUNTAIN - Floyd Landis believes he should be defending his Tour de Georgia title.

Instead, he cannot race until he first successfully defends his reputation.

Landis was back at the Tour de Georgia on Saturday, saying again he has been unfairly pushed to the sport's sidelines by doping allegations.

Landis watched Saturday as fellow American Fred Rodriguez won a close sprint, crossing the finish line at 47 mph, to edge Argentina's Juan Jose Haedo in the sixth stage.

"Obviously it wouldn't have been my choice," Landis said of his new role as spectator. "I was glad I was there regardless."

Janez Brajkovic, a 23-year-old Slovenian, remained the overall leader in the race that will end Sunday in downtown Atlanta.

Landis' troubles began soon after his Tour de France victory last year. His "B" urine sample from his 17th-stage win in France was found to contain elevated testosterone to epitestosterone levels.

If the doping allegations are upheld, the 31-year-old Landis will be banned for two years and stripped of the Tour de France title. He agreed to sit out this year while contesting the charge.

On May 14, Landis will appear at an arbitration hearing in California where he again will deny doping allegations.

Meanwhile, this week in Paris an anti-doping laboratory began analyzing the "B" sample from the Tour de France. The retest was requested by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Landis is staging a public campaign to expose what he says is a faulty process.

"What we're trying to do is get people to look at the actual facts of the matter," he said. "I don't expect people to believe what I say or anyone else says, just at face value.

"We want people to see than an innocent athlete couldn't possibly defense himself. Whatever they think of me, they have to look at the system and agree with that."

Landis says the "B" sample was only intended to confirm results of "A" samples, which did not show banned substances.

Landis also argues that any retest should be conducted at a different laboratory than the one in France that last year examined his samples.

"We are concerned there is an interest in the lab, and certainly there is an interest in USADA, to cover themselves," Landis said.

Landis watched with interest this week when Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said he is asking cycling teams to exclude 50 riders who were implicated in the "Operation Puerto" Spanish doping investigation, even though Spanish courts have dismissed the case.

Landis wasn't named in the Spanish investigation, but he says the stance by Prudhomme is another case of riders' rights being abused in an effort to protect the sport's integrity.

"I'm certainly not naive enough to think I'm the only guy who is going through something that's not fair," Landis said. "I have no idea what their rationale is behind that other than they want it to look like they're doing something.

"Again I don't know who did what there. Clearly something happened. It's unfortunate no matter what happens next because it's unlikely we'll ever find out what really happened."

Landis said he has spent more than $1 million in his defense.

About $500,000 has been raised for the Floyd Fairness Fund, according to the fund's executive director, Michael Henson, who joined Landis Saturday.

"Clearly we view USADA as a rogue prosecutorial body that is using congressional funds to deny athletes' due process, not just Floyd but every guy who is out there racing his bike today," Henson said.

Henson called the retest in Paris "a fishing expedition" and "an act of desperation."

"Bottom line, it's not a positive test to begin with, and that's based on their own criteria," Henson said.

Landis, who had surgery on his right hip in September, said he would have been physically ready to defend his Tour de Georgia title if not for his legal problems.

He will compete in the road bike and mountain bike stages of the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colo., on June 2-3. He also plans to compete in Colorado's Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile mountain-bike race in August.

Landis said if he loses the arbitration hearing in May and has to serve the two-year suspension, he probably will never again compete in a major race.

"In the event that I lose, I can't say that I have much desire to serve a suspension and then race again later," he said. "We'll see."

Landis said if he won the hearing, he would only need "a few months" to be back in competitive form.

Former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton is making his return to competitive cycling this week after a two-year ban. Hamilton was 62nd in the overall standings and 65th in the sixth stage.