Landis leak denied

Landis leak denied
By Reuters

16/05/2007 at 23:50Updated

A French laboratory technician denied leaking information to French newspaper L'Equipe about Tour de France champion Floyd Landis testing positive for doping.

Cynthia Mongongu, an analytical chemist at Chatenay-Malabry laboratory (LNDD) outside Paris, was asked under cross-examination on Wednesday whether she had spoken to the newspaper after Landis's back-up 'B' samples were re-tested in April.

"Absolutely not," Mongongu told Landis's attorney Howard Jacobs on a slow-moving third day of the cyclist's arbitration hearing being held at Pepperdine University.

Asked whether she knew the reporter who wrote the article in L'Equipe one day after the re-testing was completed, she replied: "No."

She added she was never questioned on the matter by LNDD director Jacques de Ceaurriz.

Landis, battling to maintain his 2006 Tour de France title after testing positive for elevated testosterone to epitestosterone levels, has consistently denied using performance enhancing drugs.

His legal team say the French laboratory failed to adhere to "international standards" in a testing process that was unreliable, did not provide adequate documentation of procedures and that Landis never in fact tested positive.

Mongongu, who analysed the Landis 'A' sample and verified the 'B' sample, was questioned at length over how she conducted the testing and how she had been trained to use the machine used for IRMS (carbon-isotope ratio testing) analysis.

Although she was very clear in her replies through a French translator, she was a little vague when asked how many times she had to call for assistance when the IRMS machine needed maintenance or broke down.

"Ten times or maybe more," she said. "I just can't seem to come up with a number. I just can't seem to remember."

Jacobs replied: "I just need to establish her best estimate, so we will go with 10."

Mongongu claimed she had been "accosted" by a Landis representative, Paul Scott, who witnessed her re-test some of the Landis back-up 'B' samples on April 17 this year.

In a signed declaration, she said the top of a partially filled test tube broke and that, "when Mr Scott saw that the tube had broken, he jumped and accosted me".

Mongongu added that she put Scotch tape on the laboratory floor demarcating where Scott and fellow observer Simon Davis had to stand.

"The first two days they were very close to me," she said. "I need to be able to concentrate in my work."

However, Mongongu said she felt no need to ask U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) observer Thomas Brenna to stand further away.

"Not necessarily Dr Brenna but it's just the whole group of people right behind me," she said.

Under further cross-examination from Landis's attorney Maurice Suh, Mongongu was unable to explain several time gaps on the computer log detailing the April re-tests.

Asked by Suh what happened, she replied: "I'm not sure."

Suh prematurely ended his cross-examination of Mongongu when the witness said she was unable to answer a specialised question about Landis's urine analysis without seeing a more detailed graph.

Her response sparked a heated debate between lawyers on both sides about equal access to data needed for the hearing.

No agreement was reached after a 20-minute recess and Mongongu was the only witness to appear on the stand during the day.

Claire Frelat, another analytical chemist at the LNDD, is scheduled to be called by USADA as a witness on Thursday morning before three-times Tour de France champion Greg LeMond is expected to testify against Landis in the afternoon.

At the 10-day Landis hearing, three arbitration experts will determine whether the Tour de France champion injected himself with the male hormone testosterone.

If found guilty of doping, Landis faces a two-year suspension and the possibility of becoming the first Tour winner to be stripped of his title.