Tour de France winner Floyd Landis maintained his innocence of doping allegations during an appearance on CNN's Larry King Live Friday night.
Hours after holding a news conference in Madrid, Spain to try to explain a positive test for elevated levels of testosterone, Landis said he remainedstunned but planned to move forward.
"It was a shock as much to me as to anyone else," Landis said. "[But] I 'm going to do my best to defend my dignity and my innocence."
The American cyclist denied any wrongdoing during his first public appearance earlier in the day since Thursday's announcement from his Phonak racing team that he had tested positive for abnormal levels of the male hormone.
Landis told the news conference that he, like some other elite athletes, has naturally high testosterone levels, and asked the media and public not to judge him until a study can show he is innocent.
"We will explain to the world why this is not a doping case but a natural occurrence," he said.
The Phonak team, based in Switzerland, has suspended Landis pending results of the backup B sample of his drug test. Team manager John Lelangue said Thursday they will ask that the backup sample be tested in the next few days.
Should the B sample come back positive, Landis could be stripped of his title and be fired from the Phonak team.
Even if his B sample turns out to be clean, the American rider admitted in a teleconference Thursday, he won't be able to escape the cloud of suspicion hanging over him.
"Unfortunately, I don't think it's ever going to go away, no matter what happens next," Landis said. "It appears as though this is a bigger story than winning the Tour, so that's going to be hard to [make] go away."
Launched improbable comeback to win
The 2006 Tour de France wrapped up Sunday with Landis capturing the three-week cycling race after the final stage through central Paris and down the city's famed Champs ElysÃ©e.
Phonak was notified by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) of Landis's elevated testosterone-epitestosterone ratio in a doping test done after the 17th stage.
It was during that alpine stage that Landis launched his improbable comeback. One day earlier, Landis faltered while climbing to La Toussuire in the final kilometres of Stage 16.
He ended up losing the stage by 10 minutes and fell from first to 11th place overall, ending up eight minutes behind leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain. At that point, the American's quest for the Tour crown appeared to be over.
But in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Tour, Landis embarked on a 120-kilometre solo breakaway to win Stage 17 by a whopping six minutes. That remarkable effort pushed him up to third in the overall standings as he whittled Pereiro's lead to a mere 30 seconds.
Landis then finished third in Stage 19, a 57-kilometre individual time trial, to leapfrog Pereiro and reclaim the yellow jersey as overall leader, setting the stage for Sunday's procession into Paris, where he was crowned champion, succeeding seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.
Landis told King that understands the doubts that people may have following his amazing comeback.
"I think that part of it hurts my argument," he said. "The performance, which I'm very proud of, probably makes it [look] more suspicious."
Surprised by positive test
Landis said he was floored by the results of the initial test. He told reporters Friday that he had been tested six other times during the Tour and over a dozen other times during the year, and only once did a positive testosterone result show up — the one in question.
Testosterone is a natural hormone that builds muscle mass, butit can also come in a synthetic form. Testosterone is considered a performance-enhancing drug because it can help athletes increase muscle size and strength, reduce the amount of time required to recover after exercise, and train harder for longer periods of time.
Epitestosterone is a chemically similar natural steroid that is produced independently of testosterone. It also can come in a synthetic form.Epitestosterone is not a performance-enhancing drug, but is sometimes used as a masking agent for other drugs, including steroids.
Under World Anti-Doping Agency regulations, a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone greater than 4:1 is considered a positive result and subject to investigation.That mark was recently lowered from 6:1. The natural ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in humans is usually between 1:1 and 2:1.
Landis's ratio from the initial test has not been made public.
For his part, Armstrong told King that he believes Landis to be innocent.
"We spent three years together on the same team," Armstrong said. "If we every suspected anything to lead us to believe that he was a cheater then we would've parted way long before we did."
Dr. Andrew Pipe, medical and scientific adviser to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports in Ottawa, told the Globe and Mail that Landis's heightened testosterone levels may have occurred naturally, and that taking an injection of synthetic testosterone midway through a competition would do little to help an athlete improve his performance drastically.
"Anabolic steroids, of which testosterone is the granddaddy, can have a central nervous effect," he said."But anabolic steroids largely work by increasing the capacity for training, and increasing the bulk and tolerance of muscles.This isn't going to happen in a few hours.
"The effect of the testosterone is not going to be experienced unless there's a very significant training endeavour associated with it as well."
Pipe was surprised Landis's test results were released before the B sample was confirmed, especially since his results can't be measured against other riders' testosterone levels.Pipe also said just because Landis's test showed an unusual testosterone-epitestosterone ratio, it doesn't mean he's a drug cheat.
Landis has retained the services of a Spanishdoctor,Luis Hernandez, to help him prove his innocence.
Landis did not want to speculate why his testosterone levels were higher after the pivotal 17th stage, but suggested an oral dose ofa hormone he has been taking to help a thyroid condition or cortisone shots for his degenerative hip condition could have influenced the positive result.
"All I'm asking for is that I be given a chance to prove that I'm innocent," he said Thursday. "Cycling has a traditional way of trying people in the court of public opinion before they get a chance to do anything else.
"I would like to be presumed innocent until proven guilty — since that's the way we do things in America."
Tour marred by doping scandal
Landis's test results are the latest embarrassment for cycling's biggest race.
The opening of the Tour was rocked by a doping scandal, with several of the sport's top riders barred from the race after being implicated in a major investigation in Spain.
Among those barred from the race were Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France champion and five-time runner-up, his T-Mobile teammate Oscar Sevilla and the team's sporting director, Rudy Pevenage.
Ivan Basso, who placed 11th in 2002, seventh in 2003, third in 2004 and second in 2005, was also barred from this year's race, as were Spanish racers Francisco Mancebo and Joseba Beloki. Basso was a member of the CSC team.
Ullrich and Basso's names turned up on a list of 56 cyclists who allegedly had contact with Spanish Dr.Eufemiano Fuentes. Cyclists allegedly went to his Madrid clinic to have blood extracted for doping or to collect performance-enhancing drugs.
Nearly 100 bags of frozen blood and equipment for treating blood were found at the clinic, along with documents on doping procedures performed on cyclists.