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We have a ruling, but there's still plenty of confusion

Thursday's long-awaited ruling in the Floyd Landis doping case had a little something for everyone no matter which side you were on, whether you were following it casually or obsessively or somewhere in between. It's also unlikely to totally satisfy many people on that spectrum, or change anyone's mind.

You can select what you agree with from the documents and be smug about how right you were, or you can look at the sum of their contradictory parts and shake your head. Like the far weightier belated resolution of a certain presidential election a few years ago, the belated resolution of the 2006 Tour de France left us with a few hanging chads.

The most immediate matter pending is whether Landis can muster the will to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. On Thursday, he already sounded like a man with one foot off the pedals.

"I didn't know what my chances were of winning," he said. "I believed all along that I had to give myself the best chance to win. It turns out there was no chance.

"The day I decide to stop racing, I will forget all about it and do more important things, better things with my life. I was never so single-mindedly focused on it that I forgot that, compared to what else is going on in the world, riding a bike is one of the most useless things I can do."

Would an appeal be useless, as well? Landis said he has to consider his family, his ruined finances and his realistic odds of winning the 2006 Tour in a courtroom in 2008. He could prevail there, yet still never race in France again if anti-doping authorities there decide to impose sanctions.

The rest of us are left to consider whether an appeal can possibly resolve any of the ambiguities in the evidence; whether it can help improve the anti-doping adjudication system, which is what Landis said he set out to do; and whether it would be good or bad or indifferent news for cycling, which continues to thrash around in the quicksand of bad faith.

For those who believe Landis used synthetic testosterone to help mount his fantastic comeback in the Alps last year, the arbitrators' 2-1 vote is an affirmation. He becomes the first Tour winner ever knocked off the podium by science, a big fish harpooned in the ever-expanding hunt for cheats, stuffed and mounted on the wall to serve as a deterrent for others.

Those who believe Landis didn't dope also got something they wanted -- a vigorous minority dissent from arbitrator Christopher Campbell, and a public scolding of the French lab that handled the analysis of Landis' test results by the two arbitrators who formed the majority.

Would the Chatenay-Malabry lab's now well-chronicled procedural weaknesses enable Landis to make hay in the higher court? Campbell would say so. He prefaced his dissent with a New Testament quotation (Luke 16:10), which is part of many people's belief systems, but at last glance is not included in the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

"Whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much … " it begins. Campbell went on to excoriate the lab and maintained that the case against the cyclist is built on a shoddy technical and ethical foundation.

"As athletes have strict liability rules, the laboratories should be held strictly liable for their failure to abide by the rules and strict scientific practice," he wrote.

Campbell has sided with other athletes in high-profile cases. His fellow arbitrator Richard McLaren, who nearly always finds for the anti-doping agency, did what he usually does. Panel chairman Patrice Brunet, the swing vote, swung toward McLaren, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's perfect conviction record was preserved.

Cynics will always contend that Brunet knew what he would do even before he presided over nine grueling days of public testimony, reviewed an 1,800-page transcript and had further private consultations with the panel's hired expert, Dr. Francesco Botre, director of the WADA-accredited lab in Rome.

But Brunet and McLaren also did something interesting and unprecedented -- they sternly criticized the French lab. They found that Landis' initial testosterone-to-epitestosterone screening test from Stage 17 was too flawed to accept as evidence while concluding the more sophisticated carbon-isotope analysis that detected synthetic testosterone in Landis' sample was valid.

Confused? So were Landis and his lawyers, Maurice Suh and Howard Jacobs, who say they don't understand how trust can be exercised so selectively. Brunet and McLaren warned the lab that it was on a sort of probation, in danger of losing credibility, yet upheld portions of its work in the Landis case anyway.

USADA's lawyers, Rich Young and Matt Barnett, view the panel's findings differently, reminiscent of the way the two sides argued over the decoding of the charts and parabolas, impenetrable to laypeople, that ultimately determined Landis' fate.

The errors committed by the lab didn't affect the core scientific truth, they said. The fact that the panel distinguished between good and faulty evidence simply showed the arbitrators were careful. They welcomed the critique of the lab. What litigator wouldn't want more airtight evidence the next time around?

"There are things I would expect the Paris lab would do differently next time," Young said, and for any accused athlete's sake, you have to hope he's right.

The panel gave no weight to the sensational testimony of three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond, which is sure to dismay some but please those who viewed him as a self-serving, self-appointed vigilante. Nor did it rely on the lurid revelations of former lower-level professional racer Joe Papp, who offered up his own doping history to debunk the theory that testosterone wouldn't help an endurance athlete such as Landis.

Perhaps the question left most glaringly open by the ruling is whether WADA lab directors -- who are among the only people qualified to serve as checks and balances on each other's work -- truly can speak their minds in these cases.

A citation from the agency's code of ethics seems to overtly discourage lab directors from criticizing one another in an official forum, and there was testimony during the hearing, notably from respected former UCLA lab director Don Catlin, that supported that contention.

Brunet and McLaren wrote that they believed the rule had simply been misinterpreted. That doesn't directly address the possibility that it has been misused and has unfairly influenced the outcome of this and past cases.

"We would love to see any change in that rule to clarify it, to remove that confusion," Barnett said.

In the majority ruling, the arbitrators sometimes appear to make a distinction between following lab procedures and anti-doping regulations and doing what's right in pursuit of a higher purpose -- clean sport. Everyone, they seem to be saying, is trying his or her best here. But with lives and careers on the line, is that enough?

The ideal outcome in the high-stakes Landis case would have been a decision that advanced the plot in the cops-and-robbers movie that is the anti-doping movement, a ruling that inspired utter confidence. Perhaps that was impossible.

When Landis left his sheltered Mennonite community in southeastern Pennsylvania to find out just how much of a winner he could be as an athlete, he knew he was entering a more complicated world where his ingrained notions of good and evil might have to be revised.

We might never know exactly which angels and demons Landis wrestled with, whether he -- as Luke would say -- was dishonest with very little or much, or nothing at all. The only certainty is that he couldn't have imagined how much he would lose when he became a champion.

Bonnie D. Ford is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.