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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chicago Marathon 2010: Live coverage

Chicago Marathon 2010:  The Live Post from the Rumble in the Jungle (including video)

Sammy Wanjiru and Liliya Shobukhova have defended their Chicago Marathon titles, won the World Marathon Major titles, and delivered two constrasting victories in the Windy (and slightly warm) city today.

Below is our "live post" (which is kind of edited after the fact, thanks to a few technical gremlins), and you can follow the splits and our in-race thoughts.

But before that, re-live the final mile of a quite magnificent men's race in the video below.  It was a showdown between the two best marathon racers of the last two years, in Sammy Wanjiru and Tsegay Kebede.  Kebede has had a great 2009/2010 season, and may even have been a slight favourite over Wanjiru coming into Chicago, thanks to his victory in London and the fact that Wanjiru has had a pretty lean year (including a DNF in London and in a few low-key races this year).

But Chicago 2010 was about Wanjiru, back to his best.  The final 10km of this race was exceptional - not all that fast, to be honest - the 10km interval from 30km to 40km was covered in 30:13 - by today's marathon standards, that's relatively slow.  But this doesn't tell the full story.  The story was Kebede, driving the pace at the front in relatively warm conditions, surging every odd mile (they went from 4:40 to 4:58 at times), in an attempt to break the resistance of a super-fast field.  He succeeded, with one exception - Wanjiru.  There were times that Wanjiru looked to be dangling off the back, 20m behind, but every time, he fought back.  At least half a dozen times, Wanjiru looked to be dropped, but he returned every time, until the final few hundred meters, when Wanjiru made the race's decisive move.

The final kilometer was edge-of-the-seat stuff.  Kebede was clearly intent on driving from the front, because on two occasions, Wanjiru came onto his shoulder, and Kebede immediately sprinted to defend his road position (you can see one example at 2:45 in the video - it's quite something).  But eventually, Wanjiru found enough, Kebede was beaten, and the race was won, but only after a gigantic battle worthy of separating the two top ranked runners in the World Marathon Majors.

In the end, the margin of victory was 19 seconds, but the story was in some brutal, courageous and fierce racing over the final 5km.  It was magnificent racing, which no explanation can capture.  So rather enjoy the final mile, courtesy FloTrack, below.  And then read the live post below that!

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

The live post

The start of the race is nearly here, and I can say that the conditions at this point are probably not favourable for the record to fall today.  There is a bit of a stiff W/SW breeze, and the temperature and humidity at the start at 0645 is 68.1 F and 46%.  So it feels cool, and any of the runners standing around in shorts and singlets will feel cold, but it is not optimal for a world record.  Having said that, however, it is still possible as the conditions are not warm enough to prohibit a record outright.

Follow us here for some live updates of the racing and conditions!

Jonathan and Ross

Men 5 km splits 

5 km:  15:05
10 km:   29:33
15 km:  44:31
20 km:  59:19
21.1 km: 1:02:37
25 km:  1:14:30
30 km: 1:29:37 (Cheruiyot +5 s)
35 km:  1:44:19
40 km:  1:59:50 (Kebede, with Wanjiru on and off at the back, but only ever 3 seconds down)
42.2 km:  2:06:24 for Wanjiru.  Kebede 2:06:43 and Lelisa 2:08:10

Women 5 km splits 

5 km:  16:33
10 km:  33:05
15 km:  49:38
20 km:  1:06:07  (Baysa and Daska, with Shobukhova 14 seconds down)
21.1 km:  1:09:45
25 km:  1:22:42
30 km:  1:39:28 (Baysa alone at the front, Shobukhova 28 seconds down)
35 km: 1:56:40 (Shobukhova leads, Baysa 15 seconds down)
40 km: 2:13:26 (Shobukhova with a 2:20 lead)
Finish: 2:20:25 (PB and defense for Shobukhova)

Live updates

10 km
Unfortunately the television coverage is not so great, but going by the split times there is already a race forming in the women's race---Bayisa and Magarsa are already ahead of Shobukhova, Grigoryeva and Mikitenko by over 30 s, so let's see how that goes.

As predicted, on the men there is a bunch of all the contenders.

Some point after 10 km, the two women leaders are opening it up.  There are additional timing mats placed on the course at arbitrary points to prevent cheating, and at the first one the gap between the leading women and the chasers has gone up to a whopping 1min50s!  So suddenly it is looking like a two-woman race. . .

15 km
The men are on pace for "only" a 2:05, which means there are going to be fireworks at some point after halfway because the field will still be together at that point.

In the women's race, the gap is opening up, and Baysa and Daska are slowly opening up a lead on last year's champion, Shobukhova.  If they hold that pace it will be 2:19-2:20 finish for them.

21.1 km
The men have now hit the halfway point in 1:02:37 and are on course for just over 2:05.

On the women's side, the gap between the two Ethiopians and Shobukhova is 15 seconds, halfway having been reached in 1:09:45

25 km
No change in the women's race - two Ethiopians, though a small (3 second) gap has appeared between Bayisa (Paris Champion earlier this year) and Daska.  Shobukhova is in sight, at 20 seconds back, but the gap is only getting larger.

30 km
It is now a lead bunch of six in the men's race, absent is Cheruiyot who has now been gapped and appears to be going backwards.  Stay tuned, because someone will put in a surge within the next 5 km to break things up. . .

And it has started!  They are getting strung out, so the pace is rising.

For the women,an interesting situation is developing, because Daska is now sliding backwards, and Shobukhova has moved into second.  The leader, Astede Baysa, is 28 seconds ahead, but with 12km still to run, don't count out the Russian defending champ.

35 km
As the men approach 35 km, Kebede is looking in control and trying to get a gap on Wanjiru and Lelisa, but Wanjiru is fighting hard to keep with him.

Kebede is driving the pace on at the front, he is the aggressore and Wanjiru is hanging on.  Every few minutes, a small gap opens, only a second or two, but Wanjiru is definitely not on the shoulder paying close attention the entire time.  Kebede and Wanjiru are racing for the win and the World Marathon Majors, so there is a great deal at stake!

Kebede has created yet another gap, only 20 m, but that's often decisive.  So far, Wanjiru is holding it and he may well have enough to come back.  Yes, he's back!  Wanjiru has rejoined, but then so has Lelisa.  That's an indication that Kebede's pace is slowing.  The commentators are saying 4:40 miles followed by 4:58 miles, and certainly, the 5km splits are not that brutal.  So we're seeing a real race, and it's back to 3!

Kebede is still doing all the front running - only 2 kilometers to go, and the script is that Kebede pushes, opens a small gap, Wanjiru returns, Kebede drives again.  Lelisa has now been dropped and is down by perhaps 100m.

This should produce a fabulous race down the final straight.  The two best marathon racers in the last 3 years are locked together, the rumble in the concrete jungle, with 2 km to go and over $500,000 at stake!

Wanjiru throws in his own surge this time, but it's answered immediately by Kebede!  A counter-surge and again, Kebede has a 10m gap on Wanjiru.  This is magnificent racing, so aggressive.

Only 1 kilometer to go, Wanjiru comes onto Kebede's shoulder and he will not yield!  It's virtually a sprint for the final corner, with a kilometer to go.  Wanjiru settles back into second.

That's the move, Wanjiru has gone, and this time it is decisive.  With about 400m to go, an amazing shift from Wanjiru and Kebede's resistance is finally broken.  The gap is 50m and growing and it is going to be the defending champion, back to winning ways after a lean 2010.  What an amazing battle between two incredible athletes, today showing racing strength and courage!

Wanjiru wins - 2:06:24, with Kebede in second in 2:06:43.  Lelisa trailed in third, in 2:08:10.

What a fabulous race, the final victory margin may be 19 seconds, but it tells nothing of what was quite breath-taking racing over the final 5km in particular.  Surge and counter-surge, aggression from Kebede with Wanjiru seemingly hanging on (or playing a cagey follower-game, perhaps) until the last.  Without doubt, one of the fiercest and most impressive displays of marathon racing we've ever seen!

Women's race, 35 km

The women's race took on the somewhat expected pattern after 30km.  Having initially dropped Daska, Baysa grew her lead on pre-race favourite Shobukhova to 28 seconds with 12km to go.

However, the older and more experienced Shobukhova has just reeled Baysa in, and the gap is now blowing out at an amazing rate.  Shobukhova is well on the way to a big win, and in a very fast time.

Shobukhova has extended her lead, and unlike the men's race, she will finish unchallenged.  Amazingly, having been 28 seconds down at 30km, she is now 2:20 up on Baysa, who may struggle to hang on for second.  That's a 2:48 turn-around between the Ethiopian and the Russian, and it has come primarily as a result of a meltdown by Baysa - she covered the 10km in 36:18, compared to Shobukhova's 33:30 (which is pretty consistent race-pace).

The end result is that Shobukhova will defend her Chicago title, and join Wanjiru as the World Marathon Major champ.

Shobukhova it is - 2:20:25, a PB, and the fastest time by a woman since Mikitenko in Berlin in 2008  (in fact, I don't think a sub 2:22 has been recorded in two years).  Her final 2.2 km were run in 6:59, and as the guys at Letsrun have pointed out that's only marginally slower than Kebede in the men's race (he took 6:53)!  Second was Baysa, who held on bravely (just), ahead of Maria Konavolova, both over 3 minutes down.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Chicago Marathon 2010: Heat and performance

Exercise in the heat and Chicago 2010 Preview

Just one day to go now before 10-10-10, as we continue our build up to Sunday.  Earlier this week we took a look at some recent close finishes in the marathon world, two of which occurred here in Chicago.  Today we are going to take a look back to the 2007 race, when unseasonably warm and humid conditions wreaked havoc on the race and forced a premature closure.  The events surrounding that day sparked much discussion and debate here on the site, and sparked our first series, a five-part series on exercise and dehydration.

The most recent forecast for the 2010 race is looking excellent with warmer temps than normal, but minus the suffocating humidity from 2007.  The cooler morning temps might even be mild enough to facilitate a world record---providing Wanjiru can get his pacing right, but that's another post entirely.  For now we will take another look at the effects of heat on performance, and how elegantly we are able to balance our heat production with our losses so as to prevent disaster.

Given:  Heat affects performance

Few would argue this point, because inherently we all know that when it gets hot outside, we slow down.  Of course this occurs without even thinking about it, which is the remarkable part of our physiology.  So on race day 2007 none of those athletes had to first become too hot before slowing down, and instead were already running slower even from the gun.  And the effects of heat on performance are well know and documented so that we can expect a 3-5% decrease in performance compared to cool or neutral conditions.  And in fact that was bourne out in the 2007 race, as the winning time was "only" 2:11:11 compared to most other years when the winning time is between 2:05-2:07.

You might be thinking that is an awfully small difference, but remember we are dealing with the differences in performance in the most highly trained athletes, who have the best ability to cope with the heat not only because of their training status, but also because this group benefits from a smaller body mass.  In fact if you go farther down the field and analyze the every day runners, which we have, you find that the lesser trained and what are most likely "normal sized" athletes are affected in a more dramatic way.

In this first graph, we have compared the 1st, 100th, 1000th, 10000th, 20000th, 99th percentile, and the mean finishing times from 2005, 2007, and 2009.  (Click to enlarge it.)

At a glance you see that the yellow bars, 2007, are generally taller than the other two years---so that is the effect of the heat on performance.  Also, you can see that for the faster finishers the difference is smaller, which tells us they are less affected by the heat.  Interestingly, the 1000th finisher in 2009 was almost 30 min slower compared to 2007, and likewise for the 99th percentile time---it was actually faster in 2007 compared to the two other years.

Admittedly, the absolute differences might not be the most meaningful a way to evaluate the data, which is why we have looked at the relative differences between 2005 and 2007, and between 2007 and 2009.  Again, click to enlarge the graph:

The black bars are the percent different for each finishing place between '05 and '07, which the maroon bars represent the percentage difference between the '07 and '09 races.  Therefore the winning time in 2007 compared to 2005 was about 3% slower, and compared to 2009 the winning time in 2007 was about 4% slower.  This graph shows how as we go down the placings, the slower runners are affected more by the hotter temps, although perhaps at a point---probably where the people are basically walking the entire course, this effect is absent as noted by the 99th percentile finisher.  But on average the times were 8-9% slower in 2007 compared to the '05 and '09.

Don't remind us:  We know the limitations

Before the science stick comes out and we get pummeled with it, we know this is not a definitive analysis of the effects of heat on performance.  We simply grabbed the "X" placed finishing time from each of the three years and looked at how they compare.  Admittedly, looking at percentiles might be slightly better, so we encourage you to crunch the numbers with us---all of the data above are available on the Chicago Marathon website.

Regardless, we still think this paints an interesting picture of how the heat affects performance across a range of running abilities.  Most interesting but maybe not surprising is the finding that the 99th percentile times are effectively the same independent of the environmental conditions.  The reason it is not so surprising is that at that pace---between 6:00-6:30---the "runners" are effectively walking the entire distance or a very large proportion of it, and in doing so they are mitigating the effects of the heat on performance.

Quick preview of the race:  Whip out the SoS crystal ball!

It would have been great for American running, and also for Ryan Hall, if Ryan Hall could have raced against Kebede and Wanjiru.  I think at some point the pace would be too much and he would get dropped, but like Sammy Korir in Berlin 2003 he might have been pushed to a new PR and possibly a new American record.  But given Wanjiru's and Kebede's last few performances, they are the hot favorites.  Wanjiru was unbeatable between 2007 and this year, winning the Olympic gold, London and Chicago last year.  2010 has seen a drop in that form - a DNF in London his worst major marathon performance.  That race was won by Kebede, who has, in his last two marathons, established himself as the eminent marathon runner of 2010.

The race is likely to go one of two ways.  The pace could be suicidal from the gun, as in London 2009 (recall the 1:01 half split! or Chicago 2009 (29:11 for 10 km, 44 min for 15 km).  If that is the case by halfway or shortly after, expect a small pack of 4-5 runners to have formed - this is arguably the strongest ever Chicago Marathon field, and has five runners all with sub 2:06 credentials in it.  The race between these five should last at least to 32km.   What happens from there is maybe anyone's guess - if Wanjiru has regained his 2008-2009 form, then expect him and Kebede to be last men standing.  

The race is full of potential champions though - Robert Cheruiyot produced a sub-2:06 performance in Boston this year, an astonishing performance that many felt is worth a 2:04 (at least) on a Chicago-like course.  So even at world record pace, he'll be in contention.  So too Deriba Merga, the aggressive Ethiopian, will have a say in the race - he may not win it, but he'll dictate how it unfolds with his racing style.  Then there are Vincent Kipruto (3rd in Rotterdam this year) and Feyisa Lelisa (4th in Rotterdam), both sub 2:06 runners. 

The conditions are going to be near optimal for the record to fall, and with five sub-2:06 performers, including Wanjiru and Kebede in the race, it may well be on.  If the wind cooperates (and it might, as the forecast is for SW winds as the day progresses, giving them a potential tailwind down the home stretch) then it all depends on how the race unfolds.  The other option for the race is that it might be fast in the beginning, but the presence of so many potential champions may see the race become more tactical.  In that case, watch for Merga or  Cheruiyot to steal the show much as Marilson Gomes dos Santos did in New York in 2009 while Tergat and the other contenders were busy marking each other.

A friend of mine saw Merga in the hotel lift on Thursday, and he asked him what he would run on race day.  "2:04," he replied.  Whether or not Merga has that kind of speed is debatable, but this is not---he will attack and attack again and stay with the pace for as long as he can.  His 1:02:31 at 2500 m in Colombia is telling, but probably not quite worth a 58:xx time at sea level and therefore probably not good enough for a 2:04:xx marathon.  Our guess is that even if the pace is high, which Wanjiru is known to do, Merga will be able to stay with and even attack up to 30+ km, but will fade after that, perhaps hanging on for a 3rd or 4th place finish behind Kebede and Wanjiru.

On the women's side, it should be a four-woman race between defending champ Liliya Shobukhova, 2008 champ Lidiya Grigoryeva, World Marathon Majors champion Irina Mitikenko and Ethiopian Askale Tafa Magarsa---who ran 2:21 in Berlin 2008.  On paper all of them match up more or less equally, so it could be a really amazing race between those four, but we are unlikely to see any of them come close to Paula Redcliffe's 2:17:187 course record from 2002.

Race day coverage

I will be in the medical tent on race day keeping track of the environmental conditions, but we will be updating the site with live splits from the men and women as well as updates as the race unfolds.  After the race you can expect our normal analysis of the performances and pacing, so be sure to come back and also to join in the discussion!


Monday, October 04, 2010

Chicago Marathon 2010 preview: Close finishes

A quick look back at some recent and epic marathon racing

This week begins the countdown to the 33rd Chicago Marathon, which is now just over five days away.  Even with Ryan Hall's late withdraw from the field, it promises to be a competitive bunch with several athletes well capable of going under 2:06 with a few capable of sub-2:05.  But the real story is that the current champs from Chicago (Wanjiru), Boston (Robert Cheruiyot), and London (Kebede) are all lining up to do battle next Sunday.  It is a young field, as all of those athletes are 23 or younger, and we can add to them 2:05 man (2010 Rotterdam) Vincent Kipruto.  But wait!  Don't forget about Deriba Merga, too, the hard-running 2009 Boston champ who recently ran a 1:02:31 half at altitude----2456 m (8355 feet) in Bogota, Colombia.

But before analyzing the fields too much, we just wanted to have a quick and fun look at some recent and close marathon finishes, in the hopes that this year in Chicago we see some more of this.  (NB:  if you are reading this in an email message because you are a subscriber, click here to go to the site to watch the videos.)

Also, some time late Sunday night, The Science of Sport saw its two millionth visitor!  Thanks to all of our readers for helping us hit this milestone even faster than it took us to get to one million visits, we are truly grateful for your support!

Berlin Marathon 2003:  Tergat holds off pacer to be first under 2:05

First up is Paul Tergat's WR in Berlin in 2003, where he barely held off a surging Sammy Korir to set the record and be the first under 2:05.  Interestingly, Korir was then the second fastest of all time for a couple of years, but never before nor since that race has he even come close to that time again.  It begs the question why, and speaks to the "non-physiological" barriers to achieving peak performance.


New York City Marathon 2005:  Ramaala vs. Tergat

Next up is NYC 2005, where defending champ Hendrik Ramaala fought hard and nearly pulled off a repeat win from Paul Tergat.  It was the closest NYC finish on record.  It gets good right around the 1:45 mark of the clip, and there is a fantastic overhead shot of both runners going for the finish, both fighting for the win, and one does not need to know anything about running to see how hard these two are fighting for it.  Simply amazing!

Chicago 2007:  Ivuti pips Gharib at the line

Everyone recalls Chicago 2007, but perhaps not because of the amazing finish between relatively unknown Patrik Ivuti and veteran Jaouad Gharib.  Ivuti was fourth in the 10000 m in Sydney, but who remembers that?  Beyond that, he was a distant 5th in Chicago 2005 and no one owuld have bet on him to beat a seasoned racer like Gharib.  Again, amazing aerial shot of the two turning on to Columbus Drive, the finishing straight, with Gharib at least five meters in front of Ivuti.  Watch at around 40 s, as Gharib looks over his shoulder and seemingly cannot believe he has not dropped Ivuti!

Chicago 2007:  The women's race

Incredibly, after watching Ivuti barely beat Gharib, after waiting for the replay from a marathon race to confirm the winner, anyone watching surely could not believe what happened in the women's race.  Debutante Adriana Pirtea seemed to have the race wrapped up with what everyone thought was an insurmountable lead over Berhane Adere.  The highlight:  starting at around 2:20, when Pirtea begins waving to the crowd, all the while as Adere is storming down Columbus behind her!

Rotterdam 2009:  Kibet vs. Kwambai in 2:04:27

Finally, just last year in Rotterdam, another amazing race down the stretch as James Kwambai and Duncan Kibet fought it out to become the third and fourth fastest men over 42.2 km.  You can read a more detailed race report here, but it was a actually a three-man race until just before 40 km, when Abel Kirui was finally gapped by 20 s.  We see the result of Kwambai's attack around the one-minute mark, and at that point it looks like a winning move---few would have bet against him at that point, but we all know what happened next:

This was the best video we could procure to embed here, because Universal Sports has blocked embedding of their footage of the race.

The novelty of a close finish---or not?

Back in 2008, as part of our London Preview, we looked at over 100 races of the past 10 or so years to investigate the winning margin.  Surprisingly, a full 25% of those races were decided by 10 s or less.  That means at least two runners were together until quite late in the race.  Below is a reproduction of that analysis, showing the margin of victory sorted from highest to smallest.  Missing is the 2009 Rotterdam finish between Kibet and Kwambai.

So bring on "10-10-10," as the race is being promoted around the city here, because with Kebede now starting there is at least one person who on paper can perhaps match Wanjiru down the stretch, and with the late addition or Merga we can be assured of some aggressive racing if he follows his standard operating procedure.  

The long range forecast is looking fantastic with cool evening temps (50s F/13-14 C) , plenty of sunshine, and light winds.  If that holds, the chances of a real challenge for the record go up quite a bit, because two of the runners who have the potential are starting the race.  

Stay tuned this week for a look back at some of the key issues around the 2007 race, including  fluid balance and dehydration, and the effects of heat on performance!


Friday, October 01, 2010

More on Contador - the transfusion theory

Contador's positive: More thoughts

Thank you once again to everyone for the discussion in response to yesterday's post on Alberto Contador's positive test for clenbuterol.  As is often the case, your discussion has raised the standard of the original article.  I apologize for not replying to all of them, but I've certainly read them all and would encourage you to browse through them too, there are some great insights there.

In the spirit of providing latest links and thoughts, here are some articles that have appeared over the last 24 hours, and which will be of interest:

The transfusion theory gains momentum

The transfusion theory, which says that Contador used clenbuterol NOT during the Tour but many weeks/months before, and then removed blood to re-infuse later, has been gaining momentum.  A few high profile experts have suggested as such, including Rasmus Damsgard, in this article.

“If the data is correct then it’s most likely that it is a ‘Landis.”  And here, he is referring to the case of Floyd Landis, who tested positive for testosterone and was stripped of his 2006 Tour title.  If this were the case, it would partly help to explain why the level is so low - because of dilution, the re-infusion of a very small blood volume/mass containing clenbuterol would produce a very low total clenbuterol intake.  Secondly, it points towards blood doping, the re-infusion of blood.

Cue this allegation, by the German media, that Contador's blood also showed traces of what are called plasticizers, which are found in blood bags and would be present in the blood as a result of an infusion.  The point raised by many of you yesterday is that if an autologous blood transfusion was to blame for the clenbuterol, then there would be other evidence of it - the biological passport data would point to it, if not prove it outright.  Well, the argument put forward by the German media is that the urine test suggests the same thing.  At this stage, nothing has come of those allegations (presumably, the UCI has this information).

Nor may they - if the article is to be believed, the UCI have been trying hard to stall and prevent the story from coming out.  It would appear that the statements they made were forced by the persistence of the media in getting to the truth.  I've written many times here that the doping problem is ignored by the sports' governing bodies (not just for cycling, all sports) because it's clearly not in their best interests to announce that their champions may be doping (sponsors and media generally don't approve).  It may be that yet again, the UCI has managed this one poorly.  This is another branch to this story.

The flaw in the transfusion theory?

Getting back to the original story, some have argued the transfusion theory is unlikely because the half-life of clenbuterol is so short (1 day) that a cyclist would have to remove the blood within a day or two of having taken the drug in order for it to be present in the sample at a later stage when that blood is re-infused.  The problem with this theory is that the concentration detected was so small that it's quite possible that the blood removal happened a few days after taking the drug, leaving only very small amounts in the blood, but that when it was re-infused, there was just enough to produce the positive test.  Don't forget, the lab that tested the sample may be one of the only labs in the world that could pick up this amount!  So if a blood transfusion was done, it may have been thought to be safe because of the small 'dosage'.

Where this theory does have some legs is that the methods of blood doping are now so sophisticated - they have to be in order to fly under the radar of the biological passport system - that this would represent a very basic blunder.  I'm not suggesting people don't make those mistakes, but I'd be surprised at this particular one.  Transfusion remains a real possibility - the best explanation so far, I'd hazard, but it's not all that simple - I think there are still some issues around the pharmacokinetics of how that amount would appear in the urine.

The tablet theory

Speaking of the pharmacokinetics, one of the most interesting posts in discussion to yesterday's article came from Dr Robert Greene.  I'm pasting it below:
I just searched Medline for data on clenbuterol pharmacokinetics (how the body processes a drug during and after its introduction) and found one research article on clenbuterol’s use in humans (most of the articles report data obtained in horses).  I currently only have access to the abstract.  This is the reference:

Yamamoto et al.  Pharmacokinetics of plasma and urine clenbuterol in man, rat, and rabbit.  J Pharmacobiodyn 8:385-391, 1985.

Quoting from the abstract:  Following a “therapeutic dose (20, 40 and 80 micrograms/man) of clenbuterol hydrochloride”, “plasma levels of clenbuterol reached the maximum value of 0.1, 0.2 and 0.35 ng/ml, respectively, in a dose-dependent manner within 2.5 h, which lasted for over 6 h after the administration. The half-life of clenbuterol in plasma was estimated to be about 35 h.” Further only “about 20%” appears in the urine if one collects the urine cumulatively for 72 hours following a single oral dose.

In other words, a therapeutic oral dose of 20 micrograms would yield a MAXIMUM plasma level of 100 pg/ml – just twice the level found in Contador’s urine.
So, interestingly, it is not entirely inconceivable that the low concentrations came from the acute ingestion of the drug.  The problem with this is the timing - I appreciate that these athletes would try anything to get an edge.  But taking only 10 to 20 micrograms of clenbuterol would offer so little benefit that I'm skeptical that they'd try it.  There are other more effective substances that could be taken in low amounts.  But the point is, the low concentration is not only explainable by a transfusion theory.

The WADA process questioned

And then finally, a number of people question the process by which a positive finding for clenbuterol is even declared.  As we mentioned yesterday, it is not a "threshold drug", which means that they don't look for amounts above a value X in order to produce a positive finding.  And while the presence of the tiny amount in Contador's urine might point to another source, blood doping, the policy around clenbuterol is still under question, because if contamination is possible, then one has to set a reasonable baseline, usually well above the normal variation and likelihood of 'false positives'.  We received this very well put position from Colin, part of which is pasted below:
Irrespective of how the CB came into his body, its bad analytical chemistry to have a MRPL but not LLOD (threshold level), unless you have  already done a baseline study that proves there is no need for a LLOD. In other words you cannot have "any level is an adverse level" without unequivocal proof that the only way CB can get into body is through deliberate ingestion and not present in whole population through factors outside their control.

As for the delivery, it is clear that it came into the body after the 20th July test and before 21st test, and therefore clear that the initial amount was too low to be enhancing or necessary. That leaves contamination or transfusion of blood already low in CB.

If transfusion, then surely they would have sufficient blood parameter data over six days of test 2 before CB, 2 with CB and 2 without. You cannot argue that CB would be the only parameter that would dramatically change with a transfusion immediately before a test.

This is WADA type of science where the law dominates scientific reasoning. Better for them to report a finding of a miniscule amount of something worthless , no matter how confusing, than to explain why they never catch a big fish for one of the genuine performance enhancers.

Another informative read

And then finally, an informative read from ESPN's Bonnie Ford, done Q & A style, on the case.  It repeats quite a bit of what we have discussed here, but it's a good summary.

That's all the reading material for now!  Lots to get through!

We'll see what transpires over the next few days...

Commonwealth Games begins this weekend - I'll post some thoughts on this event in the coming days.