Here are the facts-
Alberto Contador, winner of this year's Tour de France, was found with traces of clenbutarol in the anti-doping sample he gave on July 21st, the second rest day of the Tour. He was also found with a distressing amount of plasticizers in his system from a blood sample taken the day before.
The clenbutarol traces are so minute that there is absolutely no way he could have taken so little an amount on purpose. He is under the legal limit for a positive test to be pronounced on this lab finding by a country mile. The UCI issued a statement reporting that the concentration was 50 picograms per millilitre, and that this was 40 times below the minimum standards of detection capability required by WADA, the world anti-doping agency. Contador's scientific adviser claimed that he would have needed 180 times the amount detected to gain any benefit in his performance.
Plasticizers, though not a banned substance, are considered by many in the anti-doping to be indicative of the banned practice of blood doping, and a consequence of keeping blood to be transfused in those ubiquitous plastic bags.
This has the conspiracy theorists on both sides up in arms. There is no definitive "proof" that Contador blood doped, but there is enough circumstantial evidence for some to pronounce judgment that he indeed engaged in this practice during this year's Tour.
So Contador quickly and hastily set up a press conference to offer up the usual denial of doping, and claimed the clenbutarol came from a piece of meat that was brought over from Spain and eaten the evening before his positive test. Since the European Union banished this substance for use in the cattle industry, this excuse seems like a stretch.
Then we have the alleged magazine article by Belgian magazine "Humo" quoting an unidentified rider from the Astana team detailing the practice of blood doping in shocking detail. As someone who knows a bit about doping and performance-enhancing drug use, the details revealed in the article certainly seem plausible enough. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the information. But there is a sticky matter of proving it, and for the sake of legitimacy the unnamed source must come forward for the world to see. Here is a quote from the online site "Velonation.com"-
"Belgian magazine "Humo" has published claims from an individual with the Astana team, who alleges that Alberto Contador used Clenbuterol after the Criterium du Dauphiné as part of a weight-loss treatment. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claims that the Spaniard had blood extracted between that race and the Tour when, crucially, traces of the banned product were still in his system.
“He had a transfusion performance after the Dauphiné Libéré [Criterium du Dauphiné], and the blood still contained a little bit of clenbuterol from a just-finished slimming treatment,” Humo reported the insider as saying.
“In the Dauphiné Libéré, Contador was still a little overweight. Ordinary people do not see that, but there was still a pound or two to shed. Clenbuterol is used to get rid of the last kilos while, at the same time, to ensure that you do not lose muscle mass - or, in the best case, even gain a little extra muscle mass.”
The individual said that the substance is used in combination with the thyroid hormone T3 [Triiodothyronine], with both acting together to burn off fat."
I make no apologies for being a Contador fan. But I'm also a fan of Andy Schleck, the rider who would stand to profit the most from a Contador suspension. If Contador is indeed stripped of his 2010 Tour title, it will be Schleck who will take the crown as the current second place runner-up.
The decision cannot be dragged out for weeks and months.There has to be a speedy resolution to this whole drama for the sake of cycling, which has taken so many hard hits to its' credibility as of late. Unfortunately, there have been so many other residual issues brought to the surface that the conjecture will continue for the foreseeable future, or until the next big scandal pops up.
Here are some of the peripheral side issues that have become a major distraction-
1) The German lab that conducted the tests have machinery that can detect minute levels of clenbutarol the French labs cannot. In other words, if the sample in question was tested in France it would not have come up positive and we wouldn't be here dealing with this controversy.
2) The plasticizer controversy, though suspicious, is not a punishable offense because the test itself has not been officially approved by WADA. Here is an excerpt from a cyclingnews.com article which explains it in further detail-
WADA's scientific director Dr. Oliver Rabin spoke about the charges today, saying, "We can not be 100% sure it was a transfusion, other explanations are possible," for the residues in the sample.
The German laboratory which tested the Tour de France samples reportedly implemented a new test designed to detect autologous transfusions through the presence of chemicals which leech from plastic blood bags into the body during an infusion.
Autologous transfusions are difficult to detect through normal tests and the examination of blood passport values. A former manager to several riders, Stefan Matschiner, revealed this week that even small amounts of a rider's own blood would give a performance boost when re-infused during a Grand Tour.
Rabin said that the test for plasticizers can be used as an indication of possible doping, but said it is not yet validated. "To validate a drug test, it must be confirmed by scientific literature and groups of experts, and it must be usable in all [WADA-accredited] laboratories," he said. "Extensive research is underway involving populations of athletes and samples from the general population, but we can not predict their outcome."3) UCI President "Fat" Pat McQuaid was questioned about the Contador positive before the news hit the press. He denied having any knowledge of it even though Contador was provisionally suspended pending further testing of the B sample. The public was not made aware of either the positive test result nor the suspension. This raised further questions like...
4) Since the news of the test result was apparently leaked, why would McQuaid deny it when initially confronted? Was there a brewing conspiracy to keep a lid on this information? Why the effort from the UCI to keep this incident from the general public?
What we are witnessing is a result of the Lance Armstrong chickens coming home to roost. The cronyism with the UCI, the bribes to make positive test results disappear, the preferential treatment, etc. It is all here. With a twist...
The UCI would put itself very much at risk if Contador were to be stripped of his Tour title. Yes, he could be suspended for a while, but Contador needs to be at the starting line at next year's Tour. He is one of only two, maybe three riders with a realistic chance of taking the title outright. He is too popular (yes, there is such a thing). He only has one other rival, and that is Andy Schleck. Without Contador, Schleck has no competition-you might as well hand him the 2011 Tour title right now. But more importantly...
Can the UCI really risk alienating a rider who knows where some of cycling's bodies are buried, especially at this time? This is a man who rode with Lance Armstrong on the same team, won most of his grand Tours with Armstrong's director sportif and, more importantly, utilized the same doctor as Armstrong. Cycling cannot afford another scandal at a time when Armstrong, the heaviest tree in the forest, is being investigated by the Federal Government of the United States for all types of fraud and organized team-wide doping when he was riding for the US Postal team.
There are many internet yahoos who are crying out for Contador's scalp, claiming that the clenbutarol and the plasticizers are enough to convince them of his guilt. These idiots never liked Contador because he had the audacity to beat Armstrong at his own game. When Lance gracelessly and without a hint of class came back in 2009 to attempt an 8th Tour title, he didn't count on the best rider in the world to challenge him. As we all know, the only way to beat a bully is to punch him right in the face, and Contador did exactly that in no uncertain terms.
The reality is Contador should get preferential treatment. As the best rider of his generation he deserves the benefit of the doubt. The controversy here isn't the positive test result, it's what is at stake. If he is striped of his Tour title and given a two-year ban, it's like leveling the same prison sentence for a person caught with 5 kilos of cocaine and another for getting caught with a marijuana joint in his pocket. It just doesn't make sense.
It's true that other riders have been banned two years for similarly inconsequential levels of clenbutarol in their system, but none of them are as important to cycling as this man. By banishing Contador, the UCI runs the risk of alienating him, and to reduce his sentence he may tell everything he knows and throw them ALL under the bus. He is not like Roberto Heras or Michael Rasmussen. Contador can do his time and come back without a hint of worry. As the best stage racer currently in the world, there will be enormous demand for his services, so he can snitch without too many repercussions.
But I highly doubt this is what Pat McQuaid has in mind as a solution to this very sticky situation. We shall see.
(Hey Alberto, maybe taking the bull by the horns isn't such a great idea after all...)