The Most Memorable Doping Excuses in Cycling

Michael Finch |

We rounded up some of the most fabulous fabrications from doping deniers. – By Joe Lindsey


True story: In 2002, Italian pro cyclist Gilberto Simoni tested positive for cocaine. His excuse: First, that an anesthetic from his dentist had cocaine, and then, that the positive came from Peruvian candies given to him by his aunt.

What’s more, it worked. Simoni was sidelined two months during the investigation but ultimately found to be free of guilt. (A similar defense worked in 2009 for tennis player Richard Gasquet, who argued he kissed a woman who had used cocaine.)

Sadly, these are just a few in a long line of doping misadventures in cycling. Let’s fire up the Excusatron and look at some of the more eyebrow-raising defenses:

-Tyler Hamilton tests positive for a homologous (foreign donor) blood transfusion in 2004. Among his defenses, he claims he may have absorbed a twin in utero and is a tetragametic chimera, with cell lineages carrying two distinct DNA profiles. This defense, among others, is rejected, partly on the grounds that if Hamilton were a true chimera his blood tests would reliably show two different cell populations. Hamilton later says he never actually claimed he was a chimera, but was simply offering it as a false-positive scenario that the test did not account for and which, therefore, made the test unreliable. Hamilton later admits transfusing blood as part of his testimony in the USADA investigation into doping on US Postal Service.

-Lance Armstrong continually claims he never failed a doping test and is “the most tested athlete” on earth. (At one point, he claims he’s been tested over 500 times.) Later, it emerges that the real number of his lifetime tests is about half that, and he admits he was doping for every one of his Tour de France wins.

-Alexandre Vinokourov tests positive for homologous blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France. His initial defense in the post-announcement chaos is that the test took place after a crash the day prior, the aftereffects of which made all the blood rush to his legs. Vinokourov initially retires but, once his two-year ban is up, returns to the sport and wins the 2012 Olympic road race.

-Floyd Landis uses a Hail Mary comeback attack to win the 2006 Tour de France and is then caught for using testosterone. In a bizarre press conference, Landis answers “I’ll say no” when asked if he doped, and contends that his testosterone: epitestosterone ratio might have been skewed by drinking Jack Daniels the night before the test. Landis engages a furious defense of his innocence that included an associate harassing witness Greg LeMond, only to later admit he took almost as much drugs as Keith Richards. Curiously, he maintains to this day that one of the drugs he did not use during the 2006 Tour was … testosterone.

-In the 2002 Tour, a lesser-known outsider, Raimondas Rumsas, climbs spectacularly during the three-week race to finish third overall. After the race, Rumsas’ wife is stopped by police, who find a team’s worth of EPO, growth hormone and steroids in her car. They claim it is for his mother-in-law. In 2003, Rumsas tests positive for EPO and is banned for two years, so he hits … the Italian fondo circuit.

-If the bottle of whiskey is the winning excuse for testosterone positives, then you’ve got to give Bjorn Leukemans some podium love. At least, that’s what Leukemans claims was responsible for his positive test in 2007. Leukemans argued that he was, uh, engaged in relations with his wife when drug testers showed up and that accounted for the spike in his test results. In response, testers pointed out that while sex might increase naturally occurring levels of the substance, it would likely have no effect on the amount of synthetic testosterone in the body. Five years later, the Flemish cycling federation cleared Leukemans based on another argument he put forth: that the positive resulted from a contaminated supplement provided by his then-team doctor.

*Pro cycling in general has been in a cone of silence lately on doping news. Since Lloyd Mondory returned an adverse analytical finding for EPO on February 17, nine other male pros have returned abnormal A-sample results up through the end of July, and no B-sample findings or final sanctions have been announced in any of their cases.

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