WisBusiness: Madison Cycling Company Frets Over Landis’ Positive Test

By Brian E. Clark

The Madison bicycle company that sponsors Tour de France winner Floyd Landis is taking a wait-and-see position on news that he tested positive for high levels of testosterone during the race and could be stripped of his title.

“There is a history of athletes testing positive in the first test but negative in the second sample,” David Cathcart, spokesman for the Saris Cycling Group, said in a statement.

“There is a rigorous, proven protocol for testing which we trust and will await the results of the second test before commenting further,” the statement said.

Saris has sponsored Landis since the fall of 2004, following his breakout year in international cycling. He is the face on the firm’s marketing campaigns. See an earlier WisBusiness.com story on Saris and Landis

Landis’ team, Phonak, said today that he will not ride until the matter is “clarified.” If the second test is positive, he will be kicked off the team.

Landis, who finished the Tour on Sunday, apparently tested positive on Thursday following an almost super-human ride through the French Alps. It followed by one day a near-collapse that seemed to ruin his chances to what is cycling’s premier race.

The Pennsylvania rider’s victory continued U.S. dominance of the Tour. Lance Armstrong, who rode a Wisconsin-made Trek bicycle, won the race seven times before retiring last year.

In an interview earlier this week, Cathcart said he hoped Landis’ win would boost sales of the company’s indoor cycles and trainers, bike computers and racks.

“Floyd’s victory is huge,” said Cathcart earlier. “It’s wonderful for him and great for us, too.”

The 30-year-old company is owned by Chris and Sara Fortune. Saris had sales of $25 million in 2005. Cathcart declined to say what Saris pays Landis.

Cathcart said visits to the company’s Web site during the past two weeks had soared and exceeded the number of hits to the site in the previous six months.

He said Landis has long used the company’s CycleOps PowerTap computer, which measures peak power, heart rate, cadence, speed and other detailed variables on a ride. The PowerTap SL sells for $1,299.

He also uses the company’s stationary trainer for indoor riding and the basic consumer bike rack when he takes his 9-year-old daughter out for spin on roads near their home outside San Diego.

Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer and Industry news, said the cycling industry is holding its collective breath.

“For now, it’s simply demoralizing,” said Sani, noting that Landis’ victory had lifted spirits after a recent doping scandal that resulted in about a dozen of the world’s top riders being kicked out of the Tour days before it started.

For Saris, he said Landis initial positive test is a public relations problem.

“But it’s too early to tell, especially if the second test is negative,” he said. “But if he loses the jersey, well …”

Still, he said this latest brouhaha in the cycling world is not a “product-damaging event, though it certainly has to be depressing for Saris’ happy staff to have this come up.”

As for impact on sales of the PowerTap computer might be minimal.

“Would they have sold more if this hadn’t happened?” he mused. “We’ll never know. If he’s vindicated, this may not matter.

“Still, the PowerTap has a pretty narrow focus and is for serious cyclists,” he said. “Mom and dad probably never were going to go out and buy one of these for junior.”

Being stripped of the Tour title might be a financial kick in the teeth for Landis, however, Sani said.

Many companies that sponsor world-class athletes have “poison pill” clauses in their contracts that say the athletes must pay a stiff penalty if they mess up.

“I don’t know how Saris’ contract reads, but this could be one of those cases,” he said.