MALIBU, California (Reuters) - A little-known professional rider admitted to being a drug cheat at the Floyd Landis doping hearing on Friday, saying he used synthetic testosterone while riding for an Italian team last year.
Twenty-four hours before Landis was scheduled to testify for the first time, Joseph Papp, who holds dual Irish and American citizenship, said he graduated to testosterone after starting on EPO (erythropoietin) in 2001.
The 31-year-old, called as a witness by lawyers representing the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), is serving a two-year ban for testing positive on the 2006 Tour of Turkey, a suspension made public for the first time on Friday.
Papp showed the hearing a packet of AndroGel, the testosterone gel he first used in cycling before changing to a different drug after joining Italian team Partizan-Whistle last year.
“I began using testosterone to improve my recovery in competition as a vehicle for better performance,” Papp said under examination by USADA attorney Matt Burnett.
“There was a noticeable improvement in the rate of my recovery and had a significant impact on my ability to perform better day after day.”
Burnett then switched his questioning in a bid to counter claims by Landis’s legal team that testosterone does not have a beneficial effect in a race like the Tour de France and that Landis would never have taken it knowing he would be tested.
“Would testosterone have a beneficial effect during a race like that Tour?” Burnett asked.
Papp, appearing on the fifth day of the hearing being held at Pepperdine University, replied: “Yes, it definitely does have a beneficial therapeutic effect.”
Burnett asked: “In your experience, do riders ever take testosterone knowing that they would be tested?
Papp said: “Yes, I think they are comfortable enough to try to get away with it.
“It’s something you can use in very small quantities that doesn’t trip any of the scanning that would then subject you to the controls that would detect it. I did it (passed screening) in two out of two tests.”
Papp, who has competed internationally since 1994 when he joined the U.S. national team, said it was simple to stay below the threshold of a positive test.
“Immediately after the race, you would rub it (the gel) on your chest or your abdomen because within 30 minutes you would experience an increase in your testosterone level,” he said.
“And within four hours you would be back to your normal base line level.”
Earlier, the director of the World Anti-Doping Agency accredited laboratory in Montreal rejected claims by Landis’s lawyers that unacceptable procedures were followed in the analysis of the 2006 Tour de France champion’s urine samples.
Asked by Landis’s attorney Maurice Suh if she had any concerns over tests conducted by the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory (LNDD) outside Paris, Christiane Ayotte replied: “If we look at the global picture, everything is really together.
“We have a very good match. There’s one difference on one peak for the B sample and that’s it. That doesn’t cast doubt on the rest of it.
“The A sample was very homogenous, whether it was processed the first time or the second time. It is just the one peak. And don’t forget that A and B are split samples.”
Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a toxicology expert called as a witness late in the day, gained some ground for the Landis camp by criticizing the LNDD’s documentation and chain of custody for specimen samples.
“After my review, I saw some glaring issues with the way that chemistry was performed in the laboratory,” Goldberger said.
“There were chain of custody errors, forensic corrections and cross-outs. It’s the pattern of mistakes.”
Landis, battling to maintain his Tour de France title, has consistently denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
At his 10-day hearing, three arbitration experts will determine whether the 31-year-old American 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.