Yesterday the UCI issued a statement initiating legal action against Floyd Landis for making "numerous unacceptable public statements." The UCI claims that Landis' public statements have "caused cycling serious harm." Included in Landis' many statements are accusations that cycling's governing body has concealed a positive doping result by seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and that government funds were used to fund an organized and systematic doping program within the Postal Service team - a squad that Armstrong had a financial interest in. Landis' statements have provoked a federal investigation into Armstrong with several former teammates reportedly testifying before a grand jury.
Landis had his 2006 Tour de France title stripped from him after a positive doping result for testosterone. He denied the charges and fought them publicly, but ultimately lost and was suspended for two years. He returned to professional racing but had few significant results. He announced his retirement from the sport earlier this year.
In response to the supposed legal action by the UCI, Landis issued a statement explaining what has led him to this point. He says that he needed to clear his conscience regarding his use of banned substances during his professional cycling career. However, he is starting to feel vindicated by his fellow professional cyclists.
"Indeed in recent discussions I've learned that many of them have chosen to clear their conscience and have confirmed to USADA many of the allegations that I've made which were written off by the perpetrators of the fraud as `sour milk'."
Now with the UCI stating they are going to proceed with legal action, Landis feels he has to respond.
"I now will have no choice but to depose those cyclists and expose them and for that I'm deeply sorry. I had hoped that in spite of whatever any current Federal cases may expose, as few of them as possible would need to speak publicly or testify, but it has become clear that the leaders of cycling will destroy anyone who stands in the way of covering their crimes."
Landis closes his statement by saying he's undaunted by the UCI.
"So while the clouded version of freedom of speech offered to Europeans has allowed them to bully others into subservience in the past, it will only serve to strengthen my resolve to expose them as the criminals that they are."
At this point Landis has not been served with any legal papers or been contacted by the UCI. He has only read what the UCI had posted on their web site.
I spoke to Landis directly and he was in good spirits.
"They finally did what I have been telling them to do to me for a year. I'm happy."
The reason for Landis' happiness is that if the lawsuit actually comes to fruition he will have the power of discovery - meaning the UCI will be compelled to give him all their documents, depositions, as well as access to any witness they may have. Discovery is very broad and doesn't have to be limited to just the lawsuit against Landis. The question is - does the UCI want Landis to have that kind of access?
During our conversation Landis said he is planning on holding a press conference at the upcoming Amgen Tour of California. He even suggested he'd like to invite Pat McQuaid to the press conference for a debate.
What is the end game strategy for the UCI? To sue Landis for monetary compensation? Landis has stated that the defense of his 2006 Tour de France cost him millions of dollars. Does the UCI believe that the former professional has money stashed under a rock in the backyard? And what if, and that's a big if, the UCI gets Landis into a court of law and wins the defamation suit? Are they hoping that their victory will suddenly improve their credibility? To many their credibility has been ruined due to their inability to govern the sport they have been charged with running. The very public battle between riders, managers, and just recently bike manufacturers are proof of this. This lawsuit is a no win situation for the boys in Aigle and Landis knows it.
Now the ball is back in the UCI's court. Will they push forward for what will undoubtedly be a public relations disaster? Will they fight this battle in addition to the ongoing skirmishes with the professional rider's union over the use of race radios, the rumors of a "break away" cycling league, and the general resentment from bike manufacturers? The UCI's smartest move would be to claim that Anonymous took a break from hacking into Sony's PlayStations and maliciously posted the lawsuit statement onto their site, then return to sending petty e-mails to Jonathan Vaughters.