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Is Landis' public self-defense really paying off?

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Floyd Landis took a break in a screened-off room behind the outdoor patio of a downtown brewpub. He was wearing a suit and tie for the fourth consecutive evening -- a personal record -- and an untouched beer sat in front of him.

Through a window, Landis could see his business manager, Will Geoghegan, and his two communications consultants, Michael Henson and Brian Rafferty, auctioning off items to benefit his legal defense fund. Some were standard, like bike jerseys. Others were more whimsical, like a bottle of Jack Daniels to be autographed by the 2006 Tour de France winner, who took a couple of slugs of the whiskey the night before Stage 17 in the Alps.

That ride gave but then took away, leading to Landis' Tour victory, then to the public humiliation of being an accused drug cheat, a charge he continues to deny vigorously. Landis had just spent the past two hours watching a slide show summarizing some of his defense team's arguments against the allegations that he used synthetic testosterone, then answering questions from a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people who had paid $35 a head to hear him state his case. Many plainly were already convinced.

"I can't say enough how much I don't want to be here," he told them at one point.

But during a quiet moment, 31-year-old Landis admitted he was a little more at ease with these public forays than he was even a few days ago. "I didn't know what to expect," he said. "But each time gets easier. I'm a social person. It's just that I don't like to be in a defensive position."

As legal developments in the case evolve almost daily, Landis keeps rolling along on his current circuit. He and his entourage are moving in lockstep with the Tour of California, the stage race Landis won last year in an early sign that he might be the rider to beat in the 2006 season. This particular weeklong swing is unprecedented not only for him but also for sports as a whole.

No other athlete accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs has mounted a public defense campaign of this scope, with these tactics. Landis decided early on to ask that the arbitration hearing by which he will be declared guilty or cleared be open to the public, a right never before exercised by any U.S. athlete. The hearing before a three-member panel, convened under the auspices of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, is scheduled for May 14 at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif.

But one of the chief driving forces behind the Landis team's approach is the desire for him to resume his career with as robust an image as he can salvage, whatever the outcome of the arbitration.

"The rewards are for transparency," Landis' lawyer Maurice Suh said. "Basically, Floyd is walking the walk. The fact that he's willing to be open is a comment on what his state of mind is. It's about Floyd speaking to his reputation."

Dr. Arnie Baker, a former family practice physician who specialized in treating cyclists and who coached Landis for several years, is even blunter on the subject.

"If we don't bring it under the bright light of day and if people don't start understanding it, then people will just say he was a doper and he got off on some technicality," said Baker, who assembled the slide show that alleges numerous clerical, technical and scientific flaws in Landis' test results. "There's Floyd's racing career, there's his image, and then there's the good of the sport and the system."

Early on, Landis agreed with his advisers' suggestion that he take his case directly to the public via the Internet. The Landis team posted hundreds of pages of technical and legal documents related to his test results on his Web site, triggering intense, involved debate among bloggers and message-board dwellers. The approach was tabbed the "wiki defense" by Landis' associates, who said the feedback -- some of it from people with expertise in blood chemistry and laboratory procedures -- has provided some leads in preparing the case.

"I wanted to make sure the whole world was watching," Landis told ESPN.com in a lengthy interview last month. "For the very little downside risk, there was a lot more to gain by demonstrating to everybody that there was nothing to hide, to demonstrate that there wasn't any deception going on in any way."

Landis said his attitude also was influenced by the barrage of negative media reports that followed his initial, scattershot attempts to defend himself after the leak that led to the revelation of his positive "A" sample.

"I was basically forced to try to explain a situation that I didn't understand, and I ended up looking like a fool," he said. "Everybody was a little surprised at the reaction and how much time people actually did spend looking through [the evidence posted online]. But again, I think it was a wise decision. It wasn't a bluffing game. If you want to look through it, feel free. I think we would be in a totally different position right now if we didn't do it, because we've gotten a lot of help from the outside."

The Landis strategy isn't necessarily transferable to the typical criminal or civil trial because lawyers generally prefer to keep their maneuvering and arguments closer to the vest and, in some instances, want to avoid the possibility of tainting a jury pool. But ESPN legal issues commentator Roger Cossack said he expects to see the Internet become an increasingly powerful tool for all parties in the legal system.

"We're in the baby stages of all of this," said Cossack, currently a visiting professor at Pepperdine whose course on media and the law is examining the intersection between law and cyberspace.

"The rules are changing dramatically. If you can ask for a date on the Internet, you certainly can ask for help on a case. Think about it -- in the past, they might have put an ad in the paper. This throws a much wider net out there."

Recently, Landis' advisers have begun a new push, urging supporters to write to Congress and the White House protesting injustices in the anti-doping hearing process in general and the Landis case in particular. Sample letters were distributed to people who attended Landis legal defense fundraisers this week. The target is the USADA, which receives a majority of its funding from the federal government.

USADA general counsel Travis Tygart declined to comment specifically on the Landis team's efforts to put its arguments before the public, citing rules that prohibit him from commenting on pending cases. He said he has confidence in arbitrators who hear USADA cases and isn't concerned they'll be influenced.

In past doping arbitrations, such as those involving cyclist Tyler Hamilton and sprinter Tim Montgomery, Tygart said, "We were painted as the bad guy by a one-sided PR campaign. Our rules don't allow us to comment, and we follow those rules. As a result, we're erroneously perceived. The reality is that we simply have the integrity to do our jobs and follow the evidence where it leads."

The USADA and other anti-doping agencies might not be so tightly constrained from speaking out in the future. One of the proposed revisions in the World Anti-Doping Agency code, which will be considered at WADA's meeting in Madrid in November, would allow anti-doping officials to respond to negative statements about the arbitration process that are "directly attributable" to accused athletes.

Landis, those close to him and those on his payroll concede that the "wiki defense" might have more impact in the court of public opinion than on the three-man panel that will hear his case. Matt Mitten, director of Marquette University's National Institute for Sports Law, agreed.

"It's a very interesting approach, but the arbitrators aren't going to be swayed by it," Mitten said.

As the hearing date approaches, Landis' lawyers and advisers are becoming more selective about what information they release and when. Still, spokesman Henson said public scrutiny "raises the level of discourse" and heightens the chances that the panel will rule fairly and the adjudication process will be prodded toward needed reform.

Vaughn Trevisanut, publisher of the dailypeloton.com Web site, said that even longtime cycling fans and industry insiders like him have gotten an education from the information disseminated in the "wiki defense."

"I wanted to make sure the whole world was watching. For the very little downside risk, there was a lot more to gain by demonstrating to everybody that there was nothing to hide, to demonstrate that there wasn't any deception going on in any way."
-- Floyd Landis

"I think what Floyd did was groundbreaking and brave, and it's been an eye-opener for a lot of us," Trevisanut said. "Generally, all this information gets filtered through the press. It made it possible to see what he was actually being served with."

Trevisanut said some longtime members of the dailypeloton chat board known as the "brain trust" -- a group of scientists, lab technicians and lawyers who also happen to be recreational cyclists or cycling fans -- immediately began dissecting the Landis documents.

Their online discussions often were hard to follow for readers without a scientific background, and they are divided on the merits of the Landis case. But Trevisanut is certain of one thing -- the debate is more intelligent than it has been on past doping cases involving prominent cyclists.

This week, the public defense offensive expanded exponentially as Landis made daily appearances at the Tour of California finish line for one of his sponsors, held several town meeting fundraisers along the route, and took every opportunity he had to meet and greet fans, bike industry VIPs and bystanders.

No audience was too small and no invitation too spontaneous for Landis and his advance crew to accept. He made an impromptu appearance on the race announcer's podium at the finish line in Sacramento that took some race organizers by surprise. He gave a quick late-night speech in a chilly waterfront tent at a municipally sponsored charity event in Sausalito, standing on a stage between giant video images of his Stage 17 ride and addressing a curious crowd gathered on the dance floor below.

Landis was asked to attend a BMC cycling team reception by team officials, including former Phonak team owner Andy Rihs, who now owns the BMC cycling team. At Rihs' behest, Landis presented one of his Tour bikes to retired cycling legend Davis Phinney to benefit Phinney's foundation for research on Parkinson's disease. Phinney promptly invited Landis to ride at a benefit later this year.

The event reunited Landis with an ex-teammate who helped him win last year's Tour. BMC rider Alexandre Moos of Switzerland shared the dais with Landis and had a brief conversation with him afterward.

"It's the first time I've seen Floyd since the Tour," said Moos, one of the riders who lost his job when the Phonak team folded. "It feels good, and it hurts at the same time. ... We don't know the end of the story yet."

Wednesday night's San Jose event was a revival meeting, and Landis and his team preached to a receptive choir. Three television crews trained their cameras on Landis for much of the evening. The crowd gave Landis a standing ovation when he walked in and listened raptly to the slide show, narrated by Henson, who was standing in for Baker.

Henson delivered parts of what has become a stump speech, calling the anti-doping adjudication process "blind to ethics and deaf to justice" and labeling the current set of rules "laudable in theory and laughable in execution."

Most attendees who stood up to take the microphone asked informed questions about the case, but others veered into commentary, voicing unqualified support for Landis.

As was the case in San Francisco, one fan asked him to go over his riding tactics in Stage 17, when Landis attacked the peloton early in a brutally difficult climbing stage and stayed clear to make up the mammoth eight minutes he'd lost the day before. Landis, animated and at ease, described his tactics and his calculation that the other contenders and their teams wouldn't work together to reel him in until too late.

Taking notes in the crowd was 50-year-old software designer David Brower, who runs a widely cited Web site devoted to the Landis case, Trust But Verify (www.trustbut.com).

Brower began the Web site as an opinion-driven blog, but it quickly evolved into brief updates and commentary on developments in the case with a daily compilation of links, from stories in mainstream publications to cycling trade sites to blogs and hot threads on message boards.

Brower freely admits his bias toward Landis, although he makes a point of including all views, routinely critiques what he considers to be inaccurate or ill-conceived reporting on both sides of the issue, and actively solicits opposing opinions. He urged Landis' advisers to take their case public early on and has received some documents directly from them.

"I think it was the right move because it helped get the seeds of doubt planted in the minds of a lot of people who otherwise would have written it off," Brower said. "If you take as a premise that he's innocent, you don't want him to have gone dark all that time."

Landis told ESPN.com last month that he has no regrets about the strategy that keeps thrusting him front and center like a reluctant political candidate drafted for a campaign.

"As painful as it was and as unlike me as it was, the context is not like it ever has been in the past," he said. "I don't have a choice now. I don't think it'll have any effect on the arbitrators, but one thing I don't want anybody to say is that Floyd was trying to cover something up."

It's a gamble that could be compared to his Stage 17 ride, except that his pursuers are far better organized.

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.