(Update, 1:54 PDT: Austin Murphy at SI got Floyd on the phone, and Landis denies using testosterone. Worth reading.)

Word comes today that Floyd Landis, the recent winner of the Tour de France, has tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone after stage 17 of the race, when he came back from a 10 minute deficit through one of the epic rides in cycling history. Here's the text of his team's announcement:

The Phonak Cycling Team was notified yesterday by the UCI of an unusual level of Testosteron/Epitestosteron ratio in the test made on Floyd Landis after stage 17 of the Tour de France.
The Team Management and the rider were both totally surprised of this physiological result.
The rider will ask in the upcoming days for the counter analysis to prove either that this result is coming from a natural process or that this is resulting from a mistake in the confirmation.
In application of the Pro Tour Ethical Code, the rider will not race anymore until this problem is totally clear.
If the result of the B sample analysis confirms the result of the A sample the rider will be dismissed and will then pass the corresponding endocrinological examinations.

I've, sadly, written a lot about doping in cycling on this blog. Here's some quick thoughts and reactions.

1) It's important to note that this isn't over yet. When athletes get tested, the sample is split in two -- this is an announcement that the first sample showed elevated testosterone. What will happen now is that the second sample will be tested; it must confirm the result of the first test before Landis would be stripped of the win, and banned from competition for two years. Were that to happen, there is an appeal process that Landis could follow.

2) At the Tour, the winner of each day's stage and the overall race leader are tested daily, along with two other randomly selected riders. That means that Landis was (at a minimum) tested after Stages 11, 12, 15, 17, 19, and 20. Presumably, the tests on the stages before Stage 17 have been completed, which would mean that Landis passed those three tests, as no positives have been announced. I would guess that the tests for Stages 19 and 20 would be completed today or tomorrow. If Landis were to pass all the other tests, it would certainly raise questions about the (not yet confirmed) positive result on Stage 17's test.

3) I've often wondered aloud if it's possible to ride at the top level of cycling without doing drugs. I don't know that answer, but these guys are doing such amazing things that there's part of me that will always question it.

4) Hearing this news today, it felt like a punch in the gut. I've really grown to like and respect Landis, the race he rode, and the pain he overcame due to his degenerative hip. I'm hoping against hope that there was some mistake at the lab or some other easy explanation for a result that I'd be crushed to have confirmed. And not just because I like Floyd -- because I worry that cycling really can't withstand another blow like this.

AuthorMark McClusky