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February 1, 2011

Oh no, Alberto!

by hammonjj

Is anyone else confused as to what’s going on/happened in the Alberto Contador case?  If so, you’re not the only one.  I’ve received A LOT of questions regarding what exactly he did and what is going to happen to him.  I’ve also heard some conspiracy theories about it all as well.  Allow me to explain:

He doped with what?

During the second rest day of the 2011 Tour de France, Alberto Contador underwent a standard doping test where he was found to possess trace amounts of a bronchodilator called Clenbuterol in his system.  This jumped out at the cycling world for two reasons:

1) A drug like Clenbuterol is normally used by cyclists during the season as it acts as a muscle building/fat shedding tool.  During the off season, and early racing season, some riders will use Clen as a way to shed fat before their big races later in the year (we’re talking about 1 or 2 pounds) and, when everything goes as planned, maybe even gain a pound or two of muscle.

2) The second reason this really jumped out at the cycling world was the amount that was found in his samples.  For reference he had roughly 50 picograms per milliliter an the minimum standard that any lab should be able to detect is two nanograms per milliliter.  This led to a simple yet difficult to answer question, was Contador really doping with so little poduct?  Athlete generally use far more when trying to accomplish early season weight loss, so what’s the deal?

The Defense presents it’s case

Contador defended himself by saying that he ate tainted meat brought to him by a friend (who brought the meat from Spain).  Is this argument believable?  Maybe.  Contador alleges that tainted meat was the culprit and the decidedly small amount of Clen in his body makes this point, but Contador was the only team mate to be tested that day, so we can’t look at other samples to compare.  To complicate matters, Clenbuterol was/is used illegally by ranch hands in order to fatten up their cattle, thus providing a possible alibi for the Spaniard.  A third point of confusion, several independent studies have come out since the positive from Germany and China stating that in roughly 20% of cases, Clen in meat can trip the Doping Meter.  Additionally (this case has a lot of additionallys), a German Table Tennis player saw virtually the same circumstances and was acquitted by the German Federation.

A foggy case of incidental doping, no?  Not so fast.

The Problem of the Picogram

WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) does have contingency plans if an athlete is incentally taking an illegal substance.  If this is to be the case, instead of the normal two year ban being imposed, a one year ban is ordered.  Not only can they not race, but all prize money, medals, awards, etc are to be stripped starting from the point of the initial positive.  This means that Alberto would (and in fact will) be stripped of his 2011 TdF victory.  In fact, he is only the second winner to be stripped of his crown.

What Now?

Now Alberto’s athletic life hangs in the balance.  Just a few days ago a ruling came down through the Spanish Cycling Federation to ban AC for one year and strip him of all his accomplishments since the positive result.  Due to the way WADA and UCI rules operate though, he will actually b sanctioned longer than one year.  Theoretically, he would be able to partcipate in any race occurring one year after his positive result (this would mean he could race the Vuelta a Espana), but since the sanction did not come down until a few weeks later, he looks like he will be actually two days late to be able to join in any grand tours for the season.

He only has a couple of choices, either accept the ban and a) retire or b) come back strong next season or appeal the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland and hope for a better ruling, though this could backfire on him.

My Thoughts

This is a complicated mess of a doping case and I think the whole sporting world is excited to see it resolved one way or another.  Me?  I like to think the best of people and hope that he is found of incidental doping, but sees the one year ban lifted.  It appears, to me at least, that AC was the victim of bad circumstances.  He was negligent by taking weird supplements with no regard for what was in them, he merely had a steak for dinner.

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