The UCI struggles to silence Floyd Landis

…and will Hein Verbruggen sue Google next?

Remember Floyd Landis? Chances are many cycling fans have almost forgotten about him, except for a few on Twitter who follow the exploits of his lawyers, his dog and various other online alter egos.

For non-cyclists he became famous a Tour de France winner, became infamous after testing positive during that Tour de France and then saw his prospects flushed down the great pan of life. He’s lost big time.

Diogenes of Babylon

But I’ll admit some admiration for him. He reminds me a little of Diogenes. Diogenes was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived in a large clay pot and by all accounts was pretty content with his life and wise too. Legend has it that the conquering ruler Alexander the Great dropped by and asked if there was anything that he could do for the humble man who slept rough but dispensed wisdom across the land. “Get out of the way, you’re blocking the sunshine” replied Diogenes. Here was a man who didn’t care for wealth or prestige, he just wanted to live by his terms.

Now it’s stretching it to link Landis to a Greek philosopher but all I’m saying is that Landis seems totally free when it comes to worries about money or status and he’s not exactly sleeping in a mansion these days. Landis has little more to lose.

But along the way Landis has upset some people and they’re responding in different ways…

Compare and contrast
Lance Armstrong’s in a mess at the moment with the US authorities leading a big investigation into him and his colleagues and some of the mess has been dumped on him by Floyd Landis. Now an official “whistleblower” in the investigation Landis has also made public statements alledging some unsporting behaviour by Armstrong and others in the Texan’s entourage.

Armstrong certainly has plenty at stake. As well as a battery of lawyers, he’s hired a PR guru in Mark Fabiani who is so famous for handling tricky stories that he’s nicknamed the “master of disaster”. He’s the Winston Wolf of public relations. So what’s been Fabiani’s tactic for handling Landis? To stay well away.

Mark Fabiani
A very public PR man

Recently a statute of limitations ran out for Armstrong to sue Landis but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a day in court with Landis is no cakewalk. There’s the possibility of reheating old stories, a wider audience and if mud flies in the courtroom, some of it might stick in the media. Fabiani’s said harsh things about Landis but has since referred people to his comments rather than blow on the embers.

The UCI approach
By contrast the UCI has just announced it’s taking Landis to court:

The International Cycling Union (UCI), its current President, Mr Pat McQuaid, and one of its former Presidents, Mr Hein Verbruggen, have lodged a case in the Swiss courts against Mr Floyd Landis regarding repeated, serious attacks against their characters.

By this step, made necessary by numerous unacceptable public statements by Mr Landis, the UCI is seeking to defend the integrity of the cycling movement as a whole against the accusations of a rider who, by breaching the Anti-doping Rules, caused cycling serious harm.

Now I’m just not sure this is the right thing. First, note its Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid that have been attacked yet it’s the UCI that is making the court case. That’s already an interesting level of protection for the “cycling movement as a whole” but I find it unusual to see an employer back its staff like this… but I can understand it.

Next there’s a procedural matter. If the UCI starts turning the wheels of Swiss justice there’s little reason for Landis to fly to Switzerland. Already penniless, spending days in court is hardly going to excite him. Put simply the UCI might win the court case but Landis won’t be there.

Finally this leads to the main point, to cite another Greek tale, that any legal victory would be a Phyrric victory. A judge might rule in favour of the Verbruggen and McQuaid but the verdict is unlikely to change people’s opinions. Even Google’s autocomplete function has a certain take on things:

Verbruggen google search
Landis today, Google tomorrow?

Worse, Landis has now said he’s going to give a press conference at the Tour of California. Citing the right of free speech in the US, he’s effectively going to hold court in front of an attendant media, most of whom will never visit a Swiss court during their careers. The court of public opinion isn’t legally recognised but the whole point is Landis has made public statements. We end up with the irony of a bid to silence him turning into a media festival in itself.

Finally Velonews spoke to a lawyer about the case:

As one attorney looking at the case noted, “it looks like a PR move on the part of the UCI, one where they pull out all of their resources to try and shut someone up. I doubt it will go anywhere, though.”

I can’t help feeling the UCI’s picked the wrong fight. It’s got every right to defend itself but money is not infinite and the satisfaction of a legal victory in a Swiss court may well prove small compared the annoyance-factor Landis is able to deliver.

Floyd Landis has fallen a long way to the point where he hasn’t got much to lose. Far from silencing Floyd Landis, the UCI seems to have annoyed him and he’s now promising more negative news. Instead of putting an end to the story, the UCI risks making Floyd Landis famous again. It’s certainly a contrast to the way Lance Armstrong’s entourage is handling Landis.

16 thoughts on “The UCI struggles to silence Floyd Landis”

  1. “Mr Pat McQuaid, and one of its former Presidents, Mr Hein Verbruggen, have lodged a case in the Swiss courts against Mr Floyd Landis regarding repeated, serious attacks against their characters.”

    I didn’t know they had any character left to defend 😛

    You’ve really got to admire the levels McQuaid takes PR blunders to. They’ve now goaded Floyd into revealing info on UCI corruption (if I’m reading his comments right). What did they seriously imagine would happen if they did this?

  2. “Me gusta”. 2006 I was camping at lake Lugano watching le tour on daily basis in a small back room cafeteria with an old roof antenna supplying signal to the 14″ colour TV standing on top of a refrigerator. Stage 17, Landis back in contention after a remarkable win pouring water in his face and drinking 25 litters l´eau pure all day long alone in the front in his escape, as a comic act to let us believe that he lost the previous stage due to dehydration. (Seems he has been alone ever since).

    Funny how the biggest fraughts have created some of the biggest moments of cycling, and makes us remember even better – and how they, no named no forgotten, fearsome of all consequences has created the scenery that broadcasters pays heavily for and indirect requires – now through banning remote control tactic management and possible introducing zones that has to be driven through with closed eyes to create more exiting races..

    Actually the long line of former tdf winners convicted for cheating with pharmaceuticals and their healths should all deserves a life time bite of the broadcast cake as they where a proven vital ingredient baking it.

    But who was then second 2006? Arh yes, Óscar Pereiro – also tested positive during the tdf for well known spanish household astmatic drug: salubtamol.

    Its a joke. But I still LOVE cycling, and camping in Switzerland, and will enjoy both as long as I live. GOTIME for the Giro! Give us a good one.

  3. Charles Pelkey in his current “Explainer” column has said that the statute of limitations has NOT actually run out yet (here in the U.S.), apparently because Landis keeps on REPEATING these accusations. I discover to my surprise that I detest the UCI more than I detest Floyd Landis; I am actually rooting for Floyd here. Never thought I’d say THAT!

  4. If yo look up “irony” in the dictionary you’ll find a picture of Pat McQuaid. On the very same day the UCI announce a defamation suit against Floyd Landis based upon Landis’s allegations that the UCI protects certain riders comes the news that a French prosecutor who brought a criminal case against Vino and others for doping in the 2007 Tour de France had his case dismissed because the UCI failed to produce the medical evidence of the riders’ positives for EPO and testosterone, claiming that such release would violate the riders’ medical privacy. Landis can make hay with that one. The UCI offered some gibberish to the prosector’s request, replying that the request had to come from a commission with jurisdictional authority to make the request. Uh, wouldn’t that be the French prosecutor who brought a criminal investigation in France into doping practices during the 2007 Tour?

  5. There have been cases of people suing over Google’s autocomplete function so it is quite possible Mr Verbruggen pursues this in a court.

    I like a comparison between Landis and Diogenes, very amusing. Good reading as usual.

  6. I believe in Landis. I think he’s now free and finally telling how it really is/was in cycling.

    Plus, the headline this morning regarding the UCI vs French authorities is coming at the right time: it sorts of proves Landis point about the UCI protecting certain interests and riders… Oh, poor UCI is so fishy!

  7. I’m disappointed in you using that daft Google trick. Really, stuff like that should be beneath you.

    Otherwise, as always, a good summary, confirming that you’re the best English language cycling blog going.

    But, seriously, the Google argument is something internet forum clowns use when they’ve run out of ideas. For example: look at this search I did today and ask how much of a Spurs legend David Beckham is:

  8. I think it’s revealing that several people, myself included at Twisted SPoke, picked up on the instructive irony of the UCI suing Landis for his supposed doping slander while on the same day a French judge says they can’t pursue a final hearing on Vino and Mayo from the 2007 TDF because the UCI refused to turn over the doping samples on those riders. That’s quite a selective and self-serving approach to doping. It’s also not going to work.

  9. Interesting to see Landis is getting support these days, once a figure of ridicule for many, some now seem to be supporting him. I’m a bit more agnostic but admire his apparent future.

    Rich: fair point but as Jan Temmerman says, people have taken Google to court. I wasn’t using the example to suggest any particular behaviour, more that it’s the first noun associated with his name. Suing Landis is only one component, a wider clean-up operation is needed.

  10. There is a Filipino saying that can be rather excellently translated to “he who fights an idiot, is the bigger idiot”.
    We all know that Floyd is desperate (I wish he wasn’t, I have always been a fan, even when shit hit the fan in 2006), and his words are cheap. Which is why precisely why no one takes him seriously now unless they have to, such as Federal Prosecutors who are paid to take his allegations seriously. The last two times I cared to look up what was happening with my man Floyd was when the UCI was on a soapbox proclaiming to the world that they should not listen to Floyd.
    I cannot be the only person who goes looking for what Floyd said right after the UCI reacts to what he said, again defeating their own goals. Floyd is always good for a quote though, even in alter-ego mode.

    Oh, and poor UCI? Poor us, us cycling fans that the UCI is so fishy.

  11. I do believe Landis is a tragic figure, but let’s make no mistake about: it the real culprits are the UCI who championed the tacit use of doping by slow pedaling on everything from the kind of testing to the implementation thereof. And let’s add to that most of the cycling press who turned a blind eye to Lance’s constant lies, (worse, they acted as fans or “pro malo” defense attorneys) and even defended Floyd when he said the craziest lies after he tested positive (“bourbon made my testosterone go up”, etc…) in fact the editor in chief of “bicycling mag. even wrote his book for him… And now that Landis is telling the truth he is attacked by most including the “journalist” who wrote his book…. Good to know the readers of this site are an exception.

  12. I don’t think Landis is desperate. What’s finally happened is that a rider landed on the doping TDF property on the UCI’s Monopoly game. And guess what? That game the UCI plays isn’t a level board game. After doing what any TDF winning cyclist would and should do on the UCI’s game board, Landis finally called BS. Those who don’t believe Floyd’s recent revelations only help the Omertà and aid the UCI in their dopey $$ game.

  13. One thought: we don’t have to take sides, the court case is UCI vs Landis but fans or others don’t have to line up on either side. I admire Landis’s freedom but the UCI has a right to take legal action. But as bike racing teaches us, you can’t attack all the time, you have to use your resources carefully and with strategy.

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