It's no secret that Americans have lost a lot of interest in professional cycling since Lance Armstrong retired.
The conviction in abstentia of one of the most inspiring, most unusual, least suspect riders among the U.S. riders competing at the very top of the sport in Europe is just the latest in a tawdry five-year saga of doping, accusation, lying, betrayal and computer hacking that has been one of the richest sources of bitterness and disillusionment that has put even many U.S.-based fans of cycling off the sport.
Armstrong's inimitable success drew many to cycling, and lost much of its audience when his career ended in 2005.
Even a brief, embarrassing comeback in 2010 didn't re-ignite interest in a sport that can usually be seen in the U.S. only on fringe sports channels, as interminable toddles through the French countryside.
On the main sports shows and networks, cycling exists only as a highlight reel filled with spectators in idiotic costumes, "attacks" that just look like a couple of guys biking along with their heads down and inevitable mass sprint, photo finish and cryptic commentary from presenters who only appear to be speaking English.
Even crashes that crumple dozens of $10,000 bikes and million-dollar legs aren't exciting compared to NASCAR's endless orbits.
At least at the Winston Cup when there's a big crash something explodes in flame. Despite their best efforts, even top European pro bike racers haven't managed to do that in a literal sense.
Most, of course, seem to have gone down in metaphorical flames as drug testers discovered the trainer with the syringe filled with GoFast visits top pros so often it's a wonder that when they drink from those tiny plastic bottles they don't fountain it back out in streams from all the little holes.
Drug charges – and often convictions as well as banishment from competition for a few seasons – have laid so many champions low that even many of those devoted to the sport have taken to avoiding any picture of a cyclist in the news for fear the story will have to do with pharmaceutical accomplishments, not physical ones.
One honest man: Lancelot of the Peloton
If there were one rider in the peloton (French for "big bunch of tiny guys who ride bikes uphill on purpose) who seemed as if he had to be clean, it was Floyd Landis.
Even if he weren't one of the top riders, Floyd would have stood out.
Every American pro had to fight against peer pressure to have his or her cycling ambitions taken seriously. In Europe cycling is like boxing is in the U.S. – a way for tough underprivileged kids to make a good living, get away from the poverty they grew up in and wear hot-pink lycra in public while pedaling up mountain roads so steep most people would hesitate to drive.
In the U.S. cycling is just a way to get to your friend's house to play Xbox before you're old enough to drive. No matter how wicked stylish those cycling outfits are, there's no way to look cool wearing skin-tight Lycra, a helmet and going out every day to ride so hard you can judge your improvement by at what point on the hill you think you'll throw up.
Fight! For Your Right! To Wear Spandex!
Floyd had an extra hurdle – he grew up Mennonite, in Lancaster, Penn. – the heart of Mennonite and Amish communities in the Northeast.
The Mennonite and Amish don't really take to things like cycling.
It's not the technology as much as the pointless waste of energy in competitive sports and the perception that promoting yourself as exceptional is sinful self-aggrandizement.
Spending the kind of hours a cyclist needs to spend training takes time away from honest work, leading the susceptible toward sin and leaving one's own work to be done by others.
And the outfits aren't, um, modest.
Mennonites and Amish, in case you never guessed from the neck-to-ankle coverage that's a big part of the overall fashion sense, are big on modesty.
Cycling clothes are not modest.
Like most kids, Floyd started out riding mountain bikes, winning the first race he ever entered while wearing sweatpants because they were more modest than the shorts everyone else wore.
His father didn't like where this was going; he tried to keep Floyd on the farm by working him too long to leave time for training and too hard to leave the energy.
Floyd trained anyway, sneaking out to train in the freezing Pennsylvania winters, often until early in the morning.
Eventually they worked things out, though Floyd's father often followed at a distance while Floyd trained on his bike, to make sure his son wasn't getting into drugs or alcohol.
Amazing victory in TdF; a little too amazing
In the peloton, Landis was a breath of naively sweet fresh air, especially on camera, where his happy-to-be-here attitude belied his ferocious performance on the bike, where he rode even top climbers into the ground with the power he showed going uphill.
In the 2005 Tour de France he finished ninth -- impressive for a teammate whose job was to help team leader Lance Armstrong save energy, avoid crashes and squelch attacks from other teams.
He left the team after that year to lead his own team, avoiding a clash of ego because Armstrong retired the same year.
In 2006 Floyd won the tour, in spectacular fashion, losing huge chunks of time one day when a flubbed on-bike food-and-drink cycle left him dehydrated and weak when others rode strongly.
He made all the time up the next day, breaking away from the pack alone early in the race and riding so hard by himself he was able to keep a huge lead all the way to the finish despite the disadvantage of having no one in front to provide aerodynamic cover that saves any pack of riders 30 percent to 40 percent the effort and, consequently, lets the pack ride a lot faster than just one guy.
Not surprisingly, French anti-doping officials showed up to test Floyd after.
His testosterone levels were way out of whack. Enough that it was less surprising that he rode so strongly than it was that he didn't turn into either the Hulk or a Neanderthal as he pedaled.
They took away his victory in the Tour de France and penalized him.
Floyd fought the accusation and then the penalties. He appealed the suspensions and the rejections of his appeals.
Floyd raised more than $1 million from the public by appealing to supporters to the 'Floyd Fairness Fund."
Landis: I'm clean, French anti-doping agency is dirty
He went on TV to promise he was innocent; he did hundreds of interviews saying he was innocent.
He and his lawyers charged that the French anti-doping establishment was anti-American and the results were the result of bias in the testing.
Landis wrote a book saying he was innocent, that the French bodies governing cycling were corrupt, that many people in cycling were guilty of doping, but that he was innocent.
The controversy broke up Floyd's Phonak team. His best friend, a former pro with whom Landis rode, committed suicide, partly, Landis said, due to the controversy and his knowledge of Floyd's doping.
None of the anti-doping agencies bought his excuses for a second. They found him guilty and recommended USA Cycling ban him for two years. Only a rider's national cycling licensing body can ban him for rule breaking.
Floyd fought the ban in U.S. courts. Eventually both sides agreed to dismiss what remained of the case, with prejudice. Floyd was still banned for two years from pro cycling.
Never mind. Yeah. I'm guilty. So is everyone else. Here's a list.
Floyd went on the offensive, this time admitting as much as $90,000 per year worth of testosterone patches, steroid, human growth hormone, blood transfusions and EPO – the dope of choice among cyclists because it forces the body to use oxygen far more efficiently than it can on its own.
Loyd accused Lance Armstrong, who had been a close friend when they were teammates, but who makes a relentless, vengeful enemy of those who attack his record of never having tested positive for doping.
Few among cycling fans believe Armstrong was clean, but he was a hero to many beyond cycling's hard core and continues to be a powerful force within professional cycling.
The accusation lost Floyd Armstrong's support and that of his fans.
Landis went back to racing, anyway, in 2010, placing lower than he should have in several U.S. races before announcing he would return to race in Europe instead.
Attack over information superhighway, not bike road
In 2009 the French newspaper L'Express reported data that appeared to have been stolen from the computers of the French national labs that were responsible for testing cyclists' blood samples for doping.
Landis denied any knowledge of the hack.
The French national police issued a summons for both Landis and his doctor/coach Arnie Baker to attend a hearing to question them about the data breach. Both skipped the hearing in May, 2009.
Neither showed up for the hearing in May 2009.
AFLD, the French anti-doping authority, said servers at the agency's LNDD lab outside of Paris had been penetrated late in 2006 and several documents were stolen. They showed incidents in which the lab had corrected some mistakes it had made in the testing of blood samples during previous doping investigations.
The documents – apparently meant to discredit the lab's reputation for always returning accurate results – turned up in the email boxes of journalists and anti-doping agencies, sent from a server spoofing the address and routing information for the LNDD lab.
A hacker named Alain Quiros admitted being paid $2,800 by a security company called Kargas to hack the lab's network, but there was little direct connection with Landis.
In 2010 an international arrest warrant was issued for Landis, who didn't return to race in Europe or anywhere else he could be arrested under the warrant.
The French tried him anyway – in abstentia, beginning Oct. 20 of this year, after two years of trying to get Landis to agree to return to face questioning.
Landis 'didn't know' why he was on trial
In an email to the Associated Press, Landis said French authorities never contacted him, his French lawyer was trying to find out why he was on trial and that he knew nothing about the case except what he read in the press.
"If we assume I'm accused of somehow conspiring to illegally acquire computer files from a lab by any means, which is all I've been able to conclude from the endless press releases, then the court is mistaken," he wrote. "I had nothing to do with any computer hacking."
During the trial prosecutors tried to draw a line from the cracked servers back through the hacker, Quiros, to the Kargas security firm to an intermediary and then across the Atlantic to either Landis or Arnie Baker.
The trial focused on a relatively routine penetration in which prosecutors accused Quiros of using a trojan horse to give himself remote access to the lab's computers, from which he took information from the Lab's files on Landis that was used in his defense.
A French court convicted Landis Nov. 10 of his role in the attack, though French prosecutors admitted they had not been able to confirm who had given orders or paid for the attack.
Landis and Arnie Baker were both convicted of benefitting from information stolen from the lab, though not of direct involvement in the theft.
They were each given 12-month suspended sentences.
Landis, Baker say they're clean, French authorities are dirty
Both Landis and his coach, Arnie Baker, denied knowledge again Thursday.
"This case against me appears to be a deeply flawed process from start to finish, designed to protect a national French institution and cover up its apparent sloppy work and incompetence," Baker told the Associated Press.
The denial repeats almost word for word the basis of Landis' defense – that he was clean, but the lab was sloppy in its testing, biased against him and was trying to cover up its indefensible results.
Landis reversed that argument when he admitted a long history of doping in 2010.
So far he hasn't admitted anything about the hacking. Baker didn't reveal whether he or Landis planned to appeal.