Why Floyd Landis Burned Lance Armstrong

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Joe Mac1, Patrick Storm Photography/flickr


A few years ago, Jim Carrey was on a talk show to promote Man on the Moon, the movie about comedian Andy Kaufman. Carey described how he studied the eccentric comic for years, learning everything there was to know about his life, trying to find some key to understanding what made Kaufman tick.

Finally, Carey said, he came to a conclusion: "The guy was nuts."

Contemplating Floyd Landis can lead to the same conclusion. After four years of strenuously maintaining his innocence of the doping charges that stripped him of a 2006 Tour de France title, the American cyclist sent an e-mail this week to cycling officials admitting that he used performance-enhancing drugs for most of his career and accusing other top cyclists of the same.

Landis also noted that the sky is blue, grass is green, and the sun often rises in the east.

Why would someone spend $2 million to defend themselves against charges they knew were true? Why lose a fortune that most people would kill for to fight a battle you can't win? Maybe Landis didn't know he was doomed. No one ever said you had to be smart to pedal a bike. In times of crisis, people will revert to their most basic selves. Cyclists succeed by grinding, by enduring beyond endurance. Something inside Landis could have made him keep pushing, believing he could reach the summit and coast home, no matter what the odds against him. Maybe he just wanted attention, good or bad. Celebrity is a hard thing to give up, even if it's only notoriety. Maybe he looked at Roger Clemens and thought, "That guy blew a fortune defending himself against doping charges in the face of massive evidence. Maybe I should, too."

Maybe it's because of Lance Armstrong. Because, really, no one cares that much about Floyd Landis—not the way they care about Lance. One athlete, after all, has movie star good looks and dates rock stars. He is a globally beloved cancer survivor and authentic American hero. The other is a guy named Floyd.

Landis' entire career was spent in Lance Armstrong 's shadow, and it always seemed as if the lack of light somehow left him stunted, grasping for sun. Suddenly, in the context of his Cain and Abel relationship with Armstrong, Landis four-year pursuit of injustice makes more much sense. He wasn't going to be the one to get busted while golden boy got all the glory, and if he was going down, he darn sure was going to take his rival down with him.

Or, maybe, like Andy Kaufman, the guy is just nuts.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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