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LANDIS CONTINUES TO FIGHT ACCUSATIONS

The 2006 Tour de France champ tries to salvage his reputation.

Floyd Landis hasn't shopped for just the right frame or scouted out just the right spot in his home to display his yellow jersey, the most recognizable symbol of his 2006 Tour de France victory.

"It's just hanging in the closet," he said. "I really don't have any desire to hang it up because I really do feel like the race hasn't ended yet."

Although this year's Tour begins Saturday, Landis continues an arduous climb that began almost a year ago.

Just days after he took his place atop the podium July 23 in Paris, word spread that he failed a drug test - that his ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone was so amiss after his unlikely comeback in Stage 17 that he must have cheated.

Landis, 31, has been fighting the accusations he has denied ever since, and fighting the World Anti-Doping Agency's system that he sees as flawed. He's been fighting to salvage his reputation and, by extension, restore some credibility to a sport in need of it, as well as fighting to keep his yellow jersey and all it means.

All that makes it worthy of framing.

He had a hearing in May to state his defense to an arbitration panel and expects to hear the outcome soon. (Both sides have said an undesirable verdict will prompt an appeal, so the wheels will continue to spin no matter what.) Then, less than two weeks ago, he took his case to the masses with the release of his autobiography, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France.

"The difficulty in explaining the case is that it's such complicated science," Landis said in a telephone interview with the Times, part of a media blitz and book-signing tour across the country. "But ultimately, it boils down to a fairly simple argument, which is nearly irrefutable, and that is the lab never identified what they were measuring as testosterone in the first place. ... They didn't do the test right, so the numbers are meaningless."

Or, he said, should have been. But the numbers haven't been viewed that way and have completely overshadowed other numbers, including the seven drug tests he passed during the three-week Tour, and three more that came after the infamous one.

"If you were getting a test for a medical condition and one (of many) came up strange, you would try more tests to make sure that one wasn't a mistake; you wouldn't automatically assume that was the right one and the rest were wrong," he said. "But that's what they (WADA) do, and you're expected to explain it."

He admitted he didn't do the best job of trying to explain the test in the days after the bombshell and probably looked "foolish in the process." Even his hearing in May made folks look foolish - and that's being kind - when Greg LeMond's appearance turned the proceedings into a sad soap opera. (Landis' manager threatened to expose that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child if he testified. Landis subsequently fired his manager.)

Nor has it helped Landis, at least in the court of public opinion, that a number of riders who once vehemently professed they didn't use drugs have now changed gears and admitted it.

"I'm sure there are people, and not just in cycling, but in every sport (who use drugs)," Landis said. "Look, there's going to be a percentage of people who are willing to do whatever they have to do, including cheating in any way. But it doesn't consume the whole sport.

"There's far more to cycling than just doping. ... It's a beautiful sport. It's something anybody can do. It's a healthy thing to do. It's fun. It deserves better."

Again, he blasted - both in print and in his 30-minute interview with the Times - the way he and other athletes have been treated by WADA and its chairman, Dick Pound. Unlike criminal proceedings, Landis said, with an obvious mix of bitterness and frustration, there's no presumption of innocence.

Still, he is fighting, some may suggest quixotically.

"There were a couple times along the way when I wondered if it was even possible to make anything good come of it, and when I started to feel like that, then I started wondering, 'Was it really worth it?' " Landis said. "I can't let something that unjust go on. If I can prevent someone else from going through what I did, at least then I'll have the satisfaction of knowing something positive came of it."

But he's realistic enough to know that no matter what, he'll always wear a scarlet letter of sorts and his life will never be the same again - even if he does have the chance to return to the pro tour, rebuilt hip and all.

"I know what I did. I know what I didn't do," said Landis, adding it will be a little painful to watch this year's race. "I won the Tour fairly and I won it through hard work, and I'm proud of that."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

FAST FACTS

Tour de France

When: Saturday-July 29

Race profile: The prologue followed by 20 stages, covering a total distance of 3,550 kilometers (about 2,206 miles) and ending in Paris along the Champs-Elysees.

Participants: 21 teams of nine riders each.

Riders to watch: Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Andreas Kloden (Astana), Levi Leipheimer (Discovery), Denis Menchov (Rabobank).

Can't-miss days

The Prologue (7.9 kilometers or roughly 4.9 miles) on Saturday: The individual time trial rolls through the streets of London, marking the first time the Tour has been there. Fabian Cancellara is the one to beat, but the fan favorite will be Olympian Bradley Wiggins, a native of London.

Stages 7-9 on July 14, 15 and 17: Welcome to the Alps and the real start of the race for the overall winner. Stage 9, after the first of two rest days, is one of the shortest stages (159.5 kilometers or about 99 miles) but features a pair of beyond-category climbs, the Col de l'Iseran and the Col du Galibier.

Stages 14-16 on July 22, 23 and 25: On to the Pyrenees. Stage 14 ends with a steep climb to Plateau de Beille, Stage 15 has five classified climbs, and following a rest day July 24, the riders have 218.5 kilometers (about 136 miles) with four classified climbs, including perhaps the toughest of the race, the Port de Larrau.

Stage 19 on July 28: Another individual time trial (55.5 kilometers, or roughly 34.5 miles) on the penultimate day. In recent years, whoever has worn the yellow jersey after the final time trial has been tough to catch.

Brian Landman, Times staff writer

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