Blazin' Saddles

Sentences and suspense

Blazin' Saddles

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If ever there was an advertisement highlighting the folly of doping, it was the live internet podcast with Floyd Landis and Joe Papp that took place last Sunday evening.

The two convicted dopers - both of whom have recently received suspended sentences for subsequent doping-related misdemeanours - were guests on the weekly Tour Chats discussion forum, hosted by affable US cycling journalist Neil Browne.

Sporting a blue lumberjack shirt ("Two dollars from a sales rack in Gap") and long shaggy locks ("Obviously, I have a personal hair stylist"), Landis was up first.

Looking a shadow of the man who helped Lance Armstrong to an armful of Tour de France victories before riding to his own historically short-lived overall win in 2006, Landis was speaking just days after being convicted by a French court in absentia for his role in hacking into the computers of the anti-doping laboratory of Chatenay-Malabry.

To Landis, his suspended sentence was just a big joke. "I can't commit any crimes in France so I'll have to limit myself to South America," he goofed ahead of an awkward silence. "Which is a bit disappointing because I had some good ideas up my sleeve," he added.

When asked what he was up to in life, Landis replied deadpan: "I've got 15 minutes then I'm going to go out drinking - at the closest place I can find."

He also stressed that one of the only things that motivated him nowadays was food - "otherwise I'd stay in bed until midday".

In short, Landis really did cut a sorry figure.

The highlight of his weekend had been picking up a Chuck E Cheese medal (which, as far as Saddles can deduce from rummaging around on the net, is a small plastic token awarded, usually to children, for excelling in arcade games at a chain of pizza restaurants in the States).

Even this humble medal was a source of bitterness for Landis, who, after complaining that "the kids these days really don't have any talent", said he'd probably end up being suspended from Chuck E Cheese.

"I got suspended from cycling. I get suspended from everything. I even got a suspended sentence, whatever that means," he harrumphed.

Does the man not realise that the call for violins has long past?

Bar a telling riff on re-finding his competitive "juices" (whatever those may be), the most insightful moment in the stuttering interview came when Landis was asked who his least favourite professional rider was.

"Tough category," he said, tucking his wavy fringe behind his ears. "I'm going to have to give you a list of three to four hundred. I really don't like [Mario] Cipollini. He's kind of annoying and thinks his hair's cool but it's not. I can't really remember any one else. I've forgotten them all. I'm not friends with any pro cyclists any more. And not Cipollini now - he was the last guy." [Awkward laugh]. "I'm popular in Idyllwild though and that's all that's important to me. There's twelve hundred people here."

From the evidence of the short online video chat, Landis seems a rather desperate, lonely, tortured soul - and a man in complete denial of all the wrongdoings people have levelled against him.

The idea that someone so seemingly dumb could be guilty of something as seemingly complex as cyberespionage does seem highly unlikely, too.

Which is lucky, because it's a charge Landis still denies. Admitting he only hired a lawyer a week before the trial, Landis said in an offhand manner: "There was no evidence against me and I didn't do anything. I guess they convicted me because I didn't show up."

After hearing Landis prattling on monosyllabically about his "valuable urine" and how he still shaves his legs "all the way up", Joe Papp's more rounded appearance was a breath of fresh air.

Instead of bragging about a forthcoming drinking session, Papp was getting stuck in from the outset: the house-bound Pittsburgh pocket-rocket-come-pill-peddler was caught in mid-swig from a bottle of beer as the webcam came online and the chat got underway.

Of course, it's not as if Papp can nip out "to the closest place" like Landis for a beer: the 36-year-old former pro is currently under house arrest for his role in distributing performance enhancing drugs. He's also serving a three-year suspended sentence for a crime which has in all likelihood ended his chances of a future career in cycling.

"People claim I'm doing this for personal benefit, but it's not true. It's retarded to think that someone would want to become a performance enhance user and then a performance enhance drug trafficker and then a convicted criminal just to do a video chat. No disrespect to you guys [but] I mean, I'm not getting paid $10,000 to do this chat."

His unfortunate use of the 'R' word aside, Papp had a point; and he continued to use the webchat as a cathartic opening and a means by which not only to apologise but also to try win over some of the "super critical" haters who have targeted him with abuse throughout his lengthy sentencing process.

"I hope people realise that I genuinely love cycling, with my heart and my soul, it's something that gave purpose and meaning to my life, and I am terribly ashamed at what I did to hurt it, but I am absolutely sincere in my efforts to help build it back up and make people think twice about making similar mistakes as mine and getting caught up in the stuff that tripped me up."

On Sunday evening's performances, the big difference between Landis and Papp seems to be their contrasting levels of contrition and readiness to open up.

Papp seems genuinely sorry for what he has done and he readily acknowledges the depression that has been eating away at his soul for years, and which now - while he's stuck at home on house arrest - is sending him deeper and deeper into a downward spiral.

Landis, on the other hand, seems to be holding it all in. The guy's clearly depressed and unmotivated with life, but he is keeping it all in and refusing to let down his guard. He doesn't seem even slightly regretful - and he refuses, even to the day, to delve into the past and admit the error of his ways.

It's really sad. One would say Landis was a car crash waiting to happen - but his vehicle already left the road a long time ago; it's just still careering down the hill, with all the doors firmly shut tight.

Critics will doubtless say Saddles is only pandering to Papp because the two are collaborators (not in drug distribution, BS hastens to add). And they would be right: Saddles does have a good relationship with Papp (and not merely professional), while he has never spoken to Landis before in person (and now will probably never get the chance to).

But then again, looking at it differently, wouldn't you cosy up to someone who has always been open and frank to you - especially when they promise a good juicy story to share with your readers?

After all, Papp tantalisingly wrote on his Twitter feed following the webchat that he could well spill the beans - in his next interview with Saddles - about a certain former rider who performs on the Masters circuit.

"I'm not going to name any names," Papp had said on Tour Chats, "but it gets my goat that he's still riding today."

Stay tuned and you might find out more in the forthcoming edition of SaddlePapp IV: House Arrest (hopefully coming to a Eurosport-hosted webpage near you soon).

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