Floyd Landis lost his final chance to retain his 2006 Tour de France title Monday, the last step of a long, multimillion-dollar process that poked holes in the anti-doping establishment but ultimately left the cyclist as just another convicted cheater.
A three-person panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a previous panel's decision, ruling his positive doping test during the Tour two years ago was, indeed, valid. Landis also must pay $100,000 toward the legal fees of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
"I am saddened by today's decision," Landis said in a statement. "I am looking into my legal options and deciding on the best way to proceed."
He has 30 days to appeal to the Swiss Federal Court.
In its 58-page decision, the panel at sports' highest court said the lab that analyzed Landis' positive test results used some "less than ideal laboratory practices, but not lies, fraud, forgery or cover-ups," the way the Landis camp had alleged.
In the end, the panel saved its harshest criticism for Landis, who it said essentially tried to muddle the evidence and embarrass the French lab, and continued on that course even after the evidence was shown not to exist.
"Appelant's experts crossed the line, acting for the most part as advocates for the Appelant's cause, and not as scientists objectively assisting the Panel in the search for truth," the decision read.
The decision comes just six days before the start of the 2008 Tour. Landis won the 2006 edition after a stunning comeback in Stage 17, a rally that appears now to be fueled by synthetic testosterone.
"We are pleased that justice was served and that Mr. Landis was not able to escape the consequences of his doping or his effort to attack those who protect the rights of clean athletes," said USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart.
The ruling upholds Landis' two-year ban from cycling, which is due to end Jan. 29, 2009, though at this point, the ban wasn't the real issue.
Landis hoped to be exonerated and to get his title back. He also wanted to use the protracted case to shed light on procedures at USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency, which he says are unfair and rigged against athletes who often don't have the resources to fund their defense.
"That's always been part of the system, that they've always had more resources than the athlete. This is the first time it's even been close," Landis' attorney, Maurice Suh, said in an interview last year.
Bankrolled through several private sources, including a fundraising campaign he launched on his own, Landis forced a case that cost more than $2 million -- a burden on him, but also a strain on the bottom lines of both USADA and WADA, which shared the cost of prosecuting the case.
After his unprecedented public hearing at his first arbitration case last May, the arbitrators upheld his doping ban but scolded USADA and the labs it uses for practices that were less than airtight.
That appeared to give Landis the opening he needed to justify an appeal to CAS. The hearing took place in March in New York, and was considered a "trial de novo" -- not technically an appeal, but a chance to have the case heard anew. Although the CAS panel agreed with the idea that the lab was less than perfect, the evidence presented over the five-day hearing didn't change the final outcome.
"The Landis case will set a precedent not only for the issues related to the application of the standard for laboratories but also for the management of CAS procedures," said CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb. "CAS appeals must be conducted promptly, efficiently, in a fair manner and with reasonable costs involved."
Thus ended the longest, most expensive and most bizarre case in modern anti-doping history.
It included some scandalous revelations during the public hearing, nothing more shocking than when former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond entered the hearing room.
LeMond told of being sexually abused as a child, confiding that to Landis, then receiving a call from Landis' manager the night before his testimony threatening to disclose LeMond's secret to the world if LeMond showed up.
Though it made for great theater, it was damaging for Landis. In the end, the only aspect of the LeMond testimony the panel considered was LeMond's claim that Landis had admitted to him that he doped -- and the panel disregarded that testimony, saying it couldn't be used as an admission.
The cyclist's future plans aren't yet known, though he was said to be hurting financially.
What's for sure is he will go down as the first cyclist in the history of the Tour to have his title stripped for a doping violation.
"Cycling has moved on already," said Pat McQuaid, president of cycling's world governing body. "It just puts this episode behind us now, we can forget it."