Contador, the UCI and the contaminated beef/clenbuterol saga
Yesterday we gave the award for Drug of the Year to methylhexanamine, or DMAA, for its repeat appearances in the latter half of the year, and the interesting debate is stimulates over supplement use.
The unlucky "loser" there was clenbuterol, a drug which rocketed into the news at the end of September when it burst the veneer of a "clean" Tour de France in 2010. Until that happened, a great Tour de France had seen Alberto Contador triumph over Andy Schleck, and not a sign of a high-profile doping case, at least during the race. The days of Rasmussen, Ricco, and going further back, Festina, were over...
Until clenbuterol came along. Or contaminated beef. Or plasticizers. Against the backdrop of denial by the UCI. Whichever you believe. And for that mass confusion, the Mad Cow award is shared by the UCI, Alberto Contador and the supposedly contaminated beef he put forward as his defence.
Recap of the story
This is actually a story we did cover at the time, and I don't want to rehash all the details here, but rather refer back to the two posts we did on it at the time:
- Contador tests positive - article includes links to Contador's response (by Douwe de Boer), and the details of the testing and when Contador tested positive. It describes how the level of Clenbuterol in Contador's blood was so low that very few laboratories in the world would have detected it - as it transpired, the samples were sent to Cologne, which is able to detect levels at least 40 times LOWER than the amount required in order for a test to be declared an "adverse analytical finding".
On this note, what is interesting is how few samples were sent to Cologne in the first place. Most of the Tour samples were sent to Lausanne, except 10 (out of 250). The Cologne lab is one of the only laboratories able to detect a number of substances at low levels, and so failing to use them when they had the option raises a few interesting questions. As it transpired, Contador's samples were among the 10 analysed there - this is not surprising given that he'd have been tested as the race leader every day.
- The transfusion theory, and the possible source of clenbuterol - in the days after the announcement, it was leaked that Contador's blood contained traces of what were called "plasticizers", molecules found in IV bags, and put forward as evidence that a transfusion had been given on the Tour's rest day, immediately preceding the positive samples
The UCI: Resolving this case internally
The UCI, for their part, once again failed to act in a manner that inspires confidence that they want the sport to be cleaned up. It transpired that Contador heard of his positive test on August 24, and it took a full month before any result was announced. Even then, it was announced by Contador's PR team only because the German media were about to break the story, and only then did the UCI announce anything. Contador was later quoted as saying that he was told to keep quiet about the test: "The UCI has always asked me not to tell this to anyone". He was further quoted as saying that "It seemed that everything was in order and that it would be resolved internally".
The silver lining
It's not all doom and gloom, of course, and earlier this year, we were very positive about the state of cycling, and wrote of how the reduction in performance in the mountains was a positive sign for doping control efforts. The 2010 Tour, for the first time in many years, showed signs of improvement, and I have no doubt that doping is now "controlled", greatly reduced from the 1990s and 2000s, where I have even less doubt that it was rampant.
There is a long way to go, of course, but the biological passport, the aggressive scrutiny by the media, the odd cyclist willing to speak out (at the risk of being shunned by the cycling community for violating omerta), and a few honest men in the sport now at least suggest that it can be fixed. If only the "old boys" would get out of the way, or be removed, we'd have a chance of seeing a clean sport in 2011. Not likely...but for now, I'll take better.