What A Difference Four Years Makes

by Rant on September 30, 2010 · 43 comments

in Alberto Contador

The latest doping scandal (or not, depending on whose story you believe) is hitting cycling with a huge impact given the relatively minuscule amount that 50 nanograms of anything is. In case you haven’t already heard, Alberto Contador apparently tested positive for clenbuterol on the second rest day at this year’s Tour. Contador’s claim is that he must have ingested food contaminated with the drug. More about that in a bit.

First, let’s get down to the news reports. How much clenbuterol, a banned anti-asthma drug (among other things), was detected? Various sources are saying that the amount found in Contador’s system is 400 times less than WADA’s minimum performance requirement for labs. In other words, the concentration of clenbuterol found is one-four hundredth as much as the lowest concentration WADA expects labs to find. That’s a whole lot less, to say the least.

VeloNation.com posted a copy of a report about the lab’s finding, written by Dr. Douwe de Boer. Dr. de Boer was asked by Contador’s legal team to give an opinion on Contador’s Adverse Analytical finding. His report contains a number of interesting pieces of information. Let’s start with the minimum concentration of clenbuterol that WADA-accredited labs are supposed to be able to detect. On this page of his report, Dr. de Boer quotes a WADA technical document that says the minimum concentration is 2 ng (nanograms)/ml (milliliter). From Dr. de Boer’s report, as well as news reports, the concentration found in Contador’s system was (edit: estimated to be) 50 picograms/ml. How much less is a picogram from a nanogram? A picogram is 1/1000-th of a nanogram. So doing a little math, it turns out that the concentration was only 40 times less, rather than the reported 400 times less.

Still, that’s quite a bit less than the minimum concentration the labs are expected to find. What other interesting things does Dr. de Boer’s report have to tell us?  In his Twitter feed, Bill Strickland notes that Contador’s “research packet” cited a number of cases of accidental ingestion of clenbuterol from food sources. Not sure if this is from Contador’s press conference, but it sounds like it could be. Where does the information come from?

On this page of Dr. de Boer’s report, you can find more detail, including footnotes to the sources he cites. So it is possible to ingest clenbuterol accidentally through food, and as Dr. Don Catlin knows, through dietary supplements. As Cyclingnews.com reports:

Catlin said that clenbuterol is one of the more common contaminats found in supplements.

In 2008, Catlin’s lab worked on the case of swimmer Jessica Hardy, who sat out of competition for two years after testing positive for clenbuterol, and found the drug in supplements that she was taking. Hardy used the information to sue the manufacturer.

On the next page of Dr. de Boer’s report, he discusses accidental use, along with the concentration of clenbuterol found in such cases. There, he states that an individual may have no symptoms of ingestion when concentrations of clenbuterol are 9 ng/ml or less. Contador’s was much less. His discussion continues on for a couple of pages before he makes a suggestion on what concentrations should be considered “fair and reasonable” and reported as an Adverse Analytical Finding, noting along the way that for clenbuterol, any presence could trigger such a finding. He concludes that perhaps a concentration of 0.2 ng/ml should be a reportable concentration, but nothing lower. This would be a concentration four times greater than detected in Contador’s case.

Subsequently, he lays out the case that Contador consumed something on July 20th, the day before he tested positive, and that it showed up on the 21st and 22nd in very small amounts. After the 22nd, no tests detected any presence of the substance.

Still, the question is, should Contador be sanctioned? WADA maintains no specific cut-off for reporting an adverse finding for clenbuterol, and as Bonnie D. Ford reports on ESPN.com:

WADA director general David Howman told The Associated Press that testing positive for even the most minute amounts of clenbuterol could be enough to sanction an athlete, although he declined to discuss the specifics of Contador’s case.

“The issue is the lab has detected this. They have the responsibility for pursuing. There is no such thing as a limit where you don’t have to prosecute cases. This is not a substance that has a threshold,” said Howman, reached by telephone as he was changing planes in Dubai on his way to the Commonwealth Games in India.

“Once the lab records an adverse finding, it’s an adverse finding and it has to be followed up.”

Howman went on to tell the AP one other thing that doesn’t get a mention in Ford’s article:

“Clenbuterol is a substance that has been used for over 20 to 30 years,” he added. “It is not anything new. Nobody has ever suggested it is something you can take inadvertently.”

At least according to Dr. de Boer’s report, that’s not strictly true. Nor was it in the Jessica Hardy case that Don Catlin was involved in. Ford’s article, however, goes on to offer this from Dr. de Boer:

“My conclusion is that it is very likely that this extra-low concentration [of clenbuterol] entered his body without him knowing it and one of the scenarios is contaminated meat,” de Boer said in a telephone interview. He said the UCI’s “lack of speed” in deciding whether to sanction Contador suggests that the cycling body is “seriously” considering the argument that contaminated food was to blame.

Clenbuterol has figured into at least two recent doping cases.

American swimmer Jessica Hardy voluntarily withdrew from the 2008 Olympic team after testing positive for the substance. An arbitration panel later agreed with her contention that she had ingested the substance inadvertently, perhaps in a tainted nutritional supplement, and cut her suspension from two years to one.

There’s that Jessica Hardy story again. And Ford gets an interesting quote from a cyclist once banned for doping and who is now a staunch anti-doping advocate:

Fellow cyclist David Millar, competing at the road cycling world championships in Australia, said Contador deserves the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are known.

“At the moment it doesn’t make much sense in that it was a rest day control and it’s a micro-dose … Alberto gets controlled every day when he’s in the yellow jersey and that would have come up the day before or after the race,” Millar said. “I 100 percent give Alberto fully the benefit of the doubt.”

One reader passed along this link, which discusses the use of clenbuterol in doping. Though I wouldn’t normally post a link to a how-to article, the author makes this point:

So Let’s re-examine that first point I made: Clen vs. clen+excercise produce roughly the same results for the first 2 weeks! This tells me that the 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off schedule for clen dosing is far from optimal, and if you want the quasi-anabolic effect from the clen, it’ll take more than 2weeks on (6 weeks apparently).

Interesting, eh? So if Contador really did ingest contaminated meat, he wouldn’t have gotten any doping benefit from the drug’s presence. And, if he took the drug on purpose, it probably wouldn’t have done anything for him — at least according to the source above.

But be that as it may, the rule is strict liability. And in a case like clenbuterol, if even a little bit is in you, you’re as good as guilty, no matter how it got there. The case of Jessica Hardy might well provide an indication of what’s in store for Contador. An arbitration panel agreed that she had inadvertently taken the drug, and they reduced her suspension to a year. She was still suspended, even though she didn’t intentionally take the drug.

Given how the federation has reported it in their press release, and given Contador’s public statements, it appears that some groundwork is being laid to avoid suspending the rider. We’ll have to see how it all plays out, but it sure leaves Contador’s fate up in the air, as well as the team he would be going to. Again, as Bonnie Ford points out:

After this year’s Tour, Contador announced that he had signed with the Danish Saxo Bank team owned by Bjarne Riis. Riis, the 1996 Tour winner who confessed to doping more than a decade later, is one of the most successful businessmen and tacticians in the sport. However, Saxo Bank began to fragment this summer when most of its stars, including brothers Frank and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, announced they were defecting to join a new Luxembourg-based team.

Andy Schleck finished second in the Tour and would be declared the winner if Contador was disqualified for a doping offense. That turn of events would also throw Riis’ 2011 plans into disarray.

Looking back four years, to when the Landis scandal was blowing up, the contrast in how quickly the story broke is striking. This time there was no press conference by Pat McQuaid talking about a “worst case scenario.” Rumors weren’t spreading publicly. Data from the test results wasn’t being leaked. Did the anti-doping system learn something from that go-round, perhaps? Certainly makes me wonder.

Will Contador lose his Tour crown? Will Andy Schleck be the second runner-up to gain the victory in the last five years due to a doping case? Or, will all of this be quietly swept under the rug, and Contador will get the equivalent of a slap on the wrist? Time will tell. And we’re certainly living in interesting times.

One last comment, what advice would Floyd Landis offer to Contador right now? I’m not sure, but FakeFloydLandis had this to say about what he would tell Contador:

First, tell the truth, whatever it is, as completely as you know it.

Good advice, that. What a difference four years makes.

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Sally September 30, 2010 at 9:29 am

I guess it’s equally (or more) likely that Alberto was having oral sex with another doping biker and inadvertently swallowed and simply isn’t prepared to come out of the closet. …. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

btw, it’s a German lab that revealed the test results? hmmmm …. “Schleck” ….. boy, that name sure sounds German.

Bill Hue September 30, 2010 at 9:29 am

He could get a backdated TUE, like Armstrong did for corticosteroid. Even if he doesn’t, I suspect it will disappear. Li Fuyu might be a little perplexed by this, but some riders live to ride another day and some do not.

Larry@IIATMS September 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

Rant, I’m no philosopher, but two components of our concept of justice are (1) to treat people fairly, and (2) to treat similarly situated people in a consistent way. In Contador’s case, it may be impossible to satisfy both of these components of justice. It may be completely unfair to ban Contador for two years and strip away his 2010 TdF title, but the ban/strip would be completely consistent with the way WADA and the UCI have handled all similar cases. If they treat Contador differently, they’re either doing so because (a) they’ve finally seen the insanity of basing an anti-doping system on the concept of strict liability, or (b) Contador is the best and best known cyclist in the world. If you’re taking a multiple choice test and this question comes up, I’d advise you to select (b) as your best answer.

A few additional points to stress under the WADA Anti-Doping Code. First, it doesn’t matter how much clenbuterol they found in Contador’s system. Clenbuterol is not a substance naturally found in the human body, and the presence of any amount of clenbuterol in Contador’s system is an anti-doping violation. The Code could not be clearer on this point. It doesn’t matter whether the amount found is less than the WADA labs are required to be able to detect.

(By the way, we cannot jump to the conclusion that the amount of clenbuterol found in Contador’s system indicates the amount of clenbuterol that Contador ingested. I’m no more a scientist than I am a philosopher. But from what I’ve read it seems that clenbuterol is metabolized rather slowly, so we would not expect an entire dose of the stuff to appear all at once in a urine sample. Also, it appears that clenbuterol IS metabolized into other substances. I don’t know if the labs are looking for the clenbuterol or for one or more metabolites of clenbuterol, but again the amount found in Contador’s urine does not equal the amount of stuff he ingested or the amount of stuff in his system during any particular stage of the race.)

Next: the WADA Code provides that all in-competition anti-doping violations must automatically lead to disqualification of the result obtained in that competition. No exceptions.

Next: the WADA Code provides for a 2-year ban from competition for an anti-doping offense like this one. However, the ban can be reduced or even eliminated if the athlete can show that the offense took place without any negligence or fault on the part of the athlete. But to get this leniency, the athlete would have to prove how the substance got into his or her system. I don’t see how Contador would be able to satisfy this burden of proof — I don’t think a story of gift beef (no matter how true) would come anywhere close to satisfying this burden of proof.

I’ve read through the deBoer report and there’s lots to add there, too. To follow …

Larry@IIATMS September 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

A bunch of things to say about the de Boer report:

de Boer is a guy that (at this point in his career) gets hired by athletes to write up these kinds of reports. He’s an expert, but he’s an expert for the defense. In fact, de Boer was hired by cyclist Fuyu Li (the cyclist referred to by Bill Hue in his comment), and de Boer reportedly indicated that the concentration of Clenbuterol in Li’s system was 0.05 – 0.10 ng/ml — just about the same concentration de Boer indicated for Contador. de Boer’s report did not do Li any good, and I suspect it will not help Contador either.

Next: it’s been widely reported that the labs “found” a particular concentration of clenbuterol in Contador’s urine. From a careful reading of de Boer’s report, this is clearly not the case. de Boer himself states clearly that the method used by the lab to detect clenbuterol was not quantitative. The concentration of 0.05 ng/ml is an estimate. de Boer did not indicate how he reached this estimate.

Next: de Boer argues (as you pointed out) that an individual may have no symptoms of ingestion when concentrations of clenbuterol are 9 ng/ml or less. This is based on a number of cases where people accidentally ingested clenbuterol from contaminated meat, had symptoms, sought medical help and had their urine tested. The lowest test result for any of these people was 9 ng/ml. This is at best a guess of what the threshold might be for people who accidentally ingested clenbuterol and felt symptoms of food poisoning. It doesn’t tell us anything about how much (or how little) clenbuterol might typically be in the system of someone using this substances as a PED, or how much (or how little) might have a performance-enhancing effect.

Next: let’s deal with de Boer’s statement that only a clenbuterol concentration of 0.2 ng/ml or higher should be a reportable concentration. He may be right from the standpoint of science or fairness, though as I’ve indicated he’s provided little to support his opinion. But his opinion is just that. At best, it’s a recommendation that WADA change its rules. The existing WADA rules provide for no concentration limit, and for no grounds to argue for a concentration limit in Contador’s case.

I don’t want to bury the lede. There’s nothing in the de Boer report to indicate that the lab found any particular concentration of clenbuterol in Contador’s system. We don’t really know at this point how much of the stuff was in his system.

wattsup September 30, 2010 at 10:58 am

Beeing cynical: What’s about a blood sample taken during a preparation period containing traces of clenbuterol? As a former client of Mr. Fuentes it seems possible that he is familiar with this method… and maybe it wasn’t only meet brought to the Tour…

Larry@IIATMS September 30, 2010 at 11:05 am

Bill Hue, long time no time. How do you get a TUE for contaminated meat?

brian ledford September 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

there is a critical difference between Li and Contador, no? namely, that there are multiple samples for contador that allow the concentration of clenbuterol to be followed for many days. So, 19th and 20th show none, peaks on the 21, tails off on 22 etc. the PK of clenbuterol is likely pretty well known, so it should be possible to figure out when and how much he ingested. Li had only the one data point so you couldn’t say that the 50 picograms/ml (or whatever it was) was the cmax. whether any of this actually matters, given the rules, is another matter entirely. As far as different treatment goes, would anyone feel differently if contador allowed all his samples to be reanalyzed for anything in an unblinded fashion?

Jeff September 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Here’s a prediction, and it’s worth exactly what you are paying for it (nothing), but here goes anyway:
Contador will be given a reduced suspension. UCI cannot get around WADA’s strict liability. Damsgaard has speculated on a few scenarios. One of those scenarios revolves around the possibility of a transfusion on the rest day. Neither the tainted meat scenario or the transfusion scenario is out of the question. Regardless of the tiny amount resulting in apparently no competitive advantage, WADA has no threshold for this substance and naturally, strict liability attaches and there is precedent. There is also precedent for a reduced suspension, or not. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. However it does play out, it’s not good for professional cycling, Team Saxo Bank, Riis, Contador, or WADA for that matter. WADA’s Code does a less than elegant job of resolving this case. UCI does a less than stellar job of demonstrating their prowess in mathematics.

edit: I missed including Contador will loose his TdF win in his possible (I’d say probable) reduced sanction. The good old boys in Nascar do a much better job with this. Clint Boyer keeps his NH win, but looses any real chance of winning the title because of loss of points, crew chief, ……..and racing goes on with Clint in the car. Much less of a PR problem for the “sport” and a seemingly more rational approach. YMMV.

MikeG September 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Rant – It would seem the UCI/WADA/etc have not really learned anything in four years, at least they have not learned how to be consistent! From all reports Contador has known about this result for over a month and it was all kept hush-hush. Mosquera on the other hand has not even been oficially notified yet and it’s all over the headlines. Can you say “situational ethics”? I knew you could…My mind keeps going back to that line from Aliens; “Nuke it from space. It’s the only way to be sure.”

Larry@IIATMS September 30, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Brian, I stress again that we have no good data at this point for the amount of clenbutarol in Contador’s system. Kudos to Contador’s PR team for getting de Boer’s unexplained estimate of 50 picograms/mL picked up as verified fact by every mainstream media outlet in the world.

Brian, your contrast of Li to Contador is based on the possibility that Li’s 50 picograms (and again, this number must have come from the same unexplained estimate) was measured at a time when the clenbutarol in Li’s system was NOT at its peak — it might have been greater if Li had been tested earlier or later. That’s possible, though I don’t know how often Li was being tested. In contrast, we’re assuming that 50 picograms was the peak measurement for Contador, since he was being tested regularly during the Tour. OK. I see that distinction. You’re figuring that the ADAs came down like a ton of bricks on Li because he couldn’t prove he wasn’t using massive doses of clenbutarol? That’s possible. Not sure what this distinction buys Contador under the WADA code.

Jeff, remember that if Contador hopes to end up with the “lenient” treatment received by Jessica Hardy, he’s got to prove his case. Hardy didn’t say that it “must” have been the supplements; she produced the supplements and had them tested. To pull the same trick, Contador would have to provide the beef he ate and have it tested. That’s sounds pretty damn near impossible to me.

austincyclist September 30, 2010 at 12:56 pm
Larry@IIATMS September 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm

austin, wow, that’s some nasty stuff being alleged about a transfusion. Since when can they test for plastic baggy residual?

There’s a problem with the logic of de Boer’s argument. de Boer argues that (1) when people eat contaminated beef, the lowest clenbutarol concentrations for people showing symptoms is 9 ng/mL, (2) Contador’s estimated clenbutarol readings were 0.05 ng/mL, ergo (3) Contador could not be doping with the stuff, he must have picked up the clenbutarol from contaminated beef. But where’s the proof that someone could eat contaminated beef and end up with a clenbutarol reading of as little as 0.05 ng/mL? How come all of de Boer’s cases have people eating contaminated beef and ending up with much higher concentrations of clenbutarol?

One possibility is that the people in de Boer’s studies were eating a lot more beef than Contador did. But the difference in the concentrations seems too great to allow for this explanation.

Another possibility is that some ranchers raising cattle illegally shoot up the cattle with a lot of clenbutarol, and others use a little bit. That would explain why in de Boer’s studies, some people who ate contaminated meat ended up with clenbutarol concentrations varying by a factor of up to 50 times. But the clenbutarol measured in Contador’s urine differs from the lowest amount measured in de Boer’s studies by a factor of 180 times. By this I mean that the clenbutarol measured in Contador’s urine is 1/180 of the SMALLEST amount ever documented in a case where someone ate meat contaminated with clenbutarol.

So to believe Contador’s case, we’d have to conclude that there are ranchers in Spain treating their cows with VERY TINY amounts of clenbutarol. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? Why would a rancher in Spain risk going to jail for illegally treating his cattle with clenbutarol, and then use such a tiny amount that it would be unlikely to have an effect on his animals?

OK, OK. I can hear Tom Fine telling me that human beings have different biochemistries and that Contador’s low clenbutarol levels do not necessarily mean that he ate meat from cattle that had been given absurdly tiny doses of clenbutarol. Tom is the kind of guy who can make good points, even when he’s not around. So be it, Tom, but my point still stands. There’s no proof that anyone ever ended up with as little as 50 picograms/mL in their urine from eating beef contaminated with clenbutarol. Meaning that we REALLY DON’T KNOW whether Contador’s results could have been caused by contaminated beef.

Jeff September 30, 2010 at 2:52 pm


Good points, but I think I used sufficient qualifiers in my previous post. There is, fortunately, no way long ago ingested meat is going to be produced for testing, and I doubt anyone had the foresight to save a frozen sample, establish a reliable COC…….. Perhaps keeping food samples will become will become SOP for Tour contenders in the future? Talk about moving from the sublime to the ridiculous.

A cursory study of WADA’s brief history illustrates there are few absolutes, unless the powers that be wish there to be an absolute. Contador’s sanction may very well be established based upon prevailing politics and how well Contador and his agents interact with those in power. If he can perform the dance that attacks the circumstances while praising the system, he might just get that reduced sanction. Then again, the press is not going to be helpful to Contador’s cause, especially the German press, if early reports are a reliable indication.

Larry@IIATMS September 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Jeff, here is the text of the three WADA rules in question. The first is Article 9: “An anti-doping rule violation in Individual Sports in connection with an In-Competition test automatically leads to Disqualification of the result obtained in that Competition with all resulting Consequences, including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes.” No exceptions. The comment to the rule states that “When an Athlete wins a gold medal with a Prohibited Substance in his or her system, that is unfair to the other Athletes in that Competition regardless of whether the gold medalist was at fault in any way. Only a “clean” Athlete should be allowed to benefit from his or her competitive results.”

This is “strict liability” in all of its glory. So if Contador is shown to have had clenbutarol in his system during the TdF, he loses his maillot jaune. He has no defense.

The next rule of interest is Article 10.2, which imposes the 2-year ban for a first doping offense. There ARE exceptions to this rule. The first is Article 10.5.1, which reads in pertinent part: “If an Athlete establishes in an individual case that he or she bears No Fault or Negligence, the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be eliminated. When a Prohibited Substance or its Markers or Metabolites is detected in an Athlete’s Sample in violation of Article 2.1 (Presence of Prohibited Substance), the Athlete must also establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his or her system in order to have the period of Ineligibility eliminated.”

Article 10.5.1 needs to be unpacked in order to be fully understood. First, the Contador case DOES involve an alleged violation of Article 2.1, so the second sentence of Article 10.5.1 IS applicable in this case. We’ll get back to this second sentence in a bit.

Next we need to consider the meaning of “No Fault or Negligence”. This is a defined term in the WADA Code, and it’s a tough test to meet. The Code states that “No Fault or Negligence” requires the athlete to establish that “he or she did not know or suspect, and could not reasonably have known or suspected even with the exercise of utmost
caution, that he or she had Used or been administered the Prohibited Substance.” The comments to the Code tell us that “No Fault or Negligence” is meant to apply only in “exceptional” cases.

The Code comments give us some examples for what is and is not “No Fault or Negligence”. If the athlete ingests a PED as a result of sabotage by another athlete, that’s “No Fault or Negligence.” But if the saboteur in question is the athlete’s coach, or doctor, or spouse, this is NOT “No Fault or Negligence”. It is NOT “No Fault or Negligence” if the athlete ingests a PED in a mislabeled or contaminated vitamin or nutritional supplement, because “Athletes are responsible for what they ingest … and have been warned against the possibility of supplement contamination.” (I’ll get to an explanation of the Jessica Hardy case in a bit.)

Maybe Contador can claim that he had “No Fault or Negligence” because eating contaminated beef is not like taking a contaminated nutritional supplement. But he’s going to have a much harder time with the second sentence of Section 10.5.1, which would require him to “establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his system.” To meet this requirement, Contador is going to have to do a lot more than argue that “it could have been the beef.” Consider in contrast the Jessica Hardy case. Hardy proved that she’d taken a particular supplement, that she’d had the supplement tested, and that the supplement was contaminated with clenbutarol. In contrast, Contador has not even proven that there is contaminated beef available for purchase anywhere in the EU.

Remember Jessica Hardy? Her case falls under WADA rule 10.5.2. Rule 10.5.2 is the same as Rule 10.5.1, except that (1) the fault standard in 10.5.2 is “No Significant Fault or Negligence”, and (2) the best result the athlete can get is to have his or her suspension reduced by half. “No Significant Fault or Negligence” is a lesser standard than “No Fault or Negligence”, so that (for example) Jessica Hardy’s ingestion of contaminated supplements might have met the “No Significant Fault or Negligence” test. (I believe that Hardy’s case was decided under an earlier version of the WADA rules, but I could be wrong about this.) If Contador’s story is believed, then I’m sure he’d also meet the “No Significant Fault or Negligence” test. Contador’s big problem under Rule 10.5.2 is the same one he faces under Rule 10.5.1: he still has to establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his system.

One final note: the defenses under Rule 10.5.1 and 10.5.2 apply only to the sanctions for an anti-doping violation. They do not provide for a defense to the anti-doping violation itself. So there’s nothing in Rules 10.5.1 or 10.5.2 that Contador can use to hang onto his 2010 maillot jaune.

Jeff September 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm


I was never questioning Contador being able to hold on to his win in the TdF this year. Fully aware that’s gone unless WADA Code is thrown out the window (just a thought). Thanks for posting the applicable rule(s). I am/was aware of it an its implications.
(Hence my commentary on how Nascar -of all sanctioning bodies/organizations- does it better, resulting in less public confusion/anger. They employ skilled marketers)

My impression at this point, from early reports, is that UCI is motivated to minimize Contador’s sanction and I’d venture to guess the Spanish Federation (actually responsible for deciding the sanction) is too. As you’ve pointed out, a one year suspension would be in line with the WADA Code if the Spanish Federation & UCI publicly believe Contador’s version of events. That would leave WADA to object, or not. If WADA objects, it would be decided by CAS. I’d guess any attempt by the Spanish Federation to deliver Contador a shorter suspension (than one year) would receive a luke warm reception by UCI because it would be un-sellable to WADA and WADA would object on general principle, with CAS eventually confirming the objection, if necessary.

Both Rant and you have cited Jessica Hardy’s case and I’m familiar with the basics of it. I’ll add that while there is precedent, precedent does not apply, unless the soup wants it to. The soup is also skilled at manipulating what they recognize as proof, so all bets are off there. If there is the political will to give Contador a reduced suspension, it will happen. If not, it won’t.

edit: Additionally, I tend to agree with much of what Jonathan Vaughters has to say about the process here: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/vaughters-wants-fairness-in-contador-doping-case

Interesting quote at the end:
“All the athletes and myself want isn’t to find out if people have ever taken any kind of medicine or drug in their entire life, but to ensure fair competition. So as long as you feel that the athlete isn’t getting an unfair advantage I don’t think there’s a problem. The question is whether the results of the Tour de France were fundamentally changed by this or not.”
Damn, that sounds reasonable!

Rant September 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm


Vaughters sounds very reasonable in that quote. Now I’m going to have to go and read that article. On the issue of precedent, it seems that for the ADAs and the CAS, precedent only counts when they want it to count. Exactly what result is in store for Contador waits to be seen. If (and that’s a big, big if) the system follows past precedent, Contador will be lucky to come away with a one-year suspension, ala Jessica Hardy. If they don’t follow precedent, then the result will be … ahem … unprecedented, whatever it is.


Regarding the concentration found that Dr. de Boer’s report states (50 ng/ml), that estimate also can be found in the UCI’s press release about the Contador AAF. Now, whether or not the information is accurate is another matter.


Situational ethics? Nah, that never happens. 😉


Interesting idea, that. Looks like AustinCyclist provides us with a link to a story that suggests just such a thing. The thing that puzzles me about if Contador (and/or other cyclists) were using clenbuterol during his preparation periods and during the off-season, how did he manage to avoid getting caught? It’s not a drug with a threshold level, so any amount in you can (theoretically) trigger a penalty. And for someone like Contador, out-of-competition testing is much more likely than for your average, everyday Joe Domestique.

Micro-dosing, perhaps? Using just enough that it will be undetectable after a day or so? But if that’s the case, do they get any benefit from the procedure? My guess is not, but it’s like other things, the placebo effect could be powerful enough to make a difference. Meaning, if someone believes the drug is working, they might get results that reinforce that belief.

Still, clenbuterol seems like it’s fairly easily detected. Why not mess with something that’s a bit more difficult and might give a bigger bang for the buck, like autologous blood doping?

I find it a bit hard to believe that Contador would be using clenbuterol during his preparation periods, but stranger things have been known to happen. And Fuentes, from what I read somewhere, is back in the doping business. Who’d’a’thunk it?

Debby September 30, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Seems like old times 😉

Rant September 30, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Sure does. I have this feeling of deja vu all over again. 🙂

William Schart September 30, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Read in the local paper tonight an article which seems a bit at odds with some of what is being cited here re: the concentration. Seemed to imply that a rather hefty concentration was found. Some “expert” (name didn’t ring a bell with me) went into some detail about how cyclists typical eat large amounts of carbs and go light on the red meat during a race like the Tour, and that it wouldn’t be likely that a cyclists would eat several large steaks, implying that was the quantity that would have to be eaten in order to produce the concentration reported for AC.

I don’t have the paper handy now, but my guess the article came off a wire. And maybe my interpretation of things is a bit off.

strbuk October 1, 2010 at 5:25 am

OMG, NO!!! Baby Contador would NEVER dope!! (damn there goes that bitterness thing again 🙂


Jeff October 1, 2010 at 6:19 am

Here is some more food for thought, hopefully not contaminated with clenbuterol:

An informative article from Bonnie Ford of ESPN:

Key Quote:
“In a 2009 scholarly paper co-authored by Prof. Wilhelm Schaenzer, the Cologne lab director, he and two other German experts concluded: “With a detectability of clenbuterol at this low concentration, positive findings in residue analysis and doping control could be due to the consumption of trace amounts found in [livestock] feed or principally also in the water supply. Threshold concentration amounts for clenbuterol in doping control have, therefore, to be considered in the future.” Catlin agreed, saying he thinks the rules are too strict.”

To summarize: In 2009 (last year, well before the 2010 TdF), the WADA Lab Director in Cologne says the tests for clenbuterol have become so sensitive that they will trigger positive findings from samples affected food and water consumption. Interesting! Catlin, former WADA Lab Director and noted expert, concurs and says the current rules are too strict.

Rant October 1, 2010 at 6:28 am


I’d be interested in seeing that article, if you ever find it.


Or maybe it’s another sign of what Lance Armstrong meant when he said Contador had a lot to learn (especially in light of current investigations in LA into actions by a certain individual with the same initials).


Thanks for the link. Joe Lindsey, over at the Boulder Report, also has a post that suggests the same thing — strict liability is a concept whose time has come and gone. (Spoiler alert) He concludes by saying:

Strict liability flies directly in the face of that ideal. It’s time, if there ever was such, has passed. To do away with it means an end to clear, easy decisions. It means diving into the messy particulars of each case and trying to determine, in the real world, what happened. That won’t be easy. But if it was your career on the line, what would you want? Justice cannot be automated.

I think I’ve seen that argument somewhere before. Hmm. Now who could have said such a thing? 😉

Jeff October 1, 2010 at 6:49 am

L’Equipe is reported to have a different view supporting a tainted transfusion:

Basically, they are claiming Contador’s TdF samples in question show traces of the plastic found in blood transfusion bags. The test for plastic is credited to Dr. Jordi Segura. L’Equipe goes on to concede that Segura’s test method has not been validated. I don’t have a cite, but believe the “plastic issue” supporting a tainted transfusion was reported previously by German media?

Early questions include: Does Segura’s test differentiate between the plastic found in blood transfusion bags and the plastics delivering our water supplies and packaging for other consumable liquids or food products? Can his test be validated to show such a distinction?

Thanks Rant for the Boulder Report link.

Rant October 1, 2010 at 7:56 am


One other interesting question. Can this test distinguish between the plastic in a blood bag versus the plastic used for a transfusion of solution for rehydration (as in, saline solution plus various electrolytes and sugars)? I wonder if the same plastic is used in both. If so, that would make the test pretty much worthless.

Matt October 1, 2010 at 8:56 am

Don’t take this the wrong way Rant, but I’m actually sorry to see you “back in business”…..(if you know what I mean). I have a feeling this one will transcend all boundaries of sanity and will venture into uncharted territory. And like the spinning wheel, “where it stops, nobody knows”. I was really growing accustomed to the doping quiet over the spring and summer season.

William Schart October 1, 2010 at 10:14 am

Ok, it was an AP piece:


Seems I misinterpreted it a bit. It wasn’t that the concentration was high, but that it was high enough he would have had to have eaten a lot of beef, or so it’s claimed.

It does seem to me that, according to the cites Larry has provided to the rules, AC’s TdF title is about to go away, unless the rules are totally ignored. He might possibly work his “tainted beef” story to a lessening of the ban, if UCI and WADA are willing to play ball in one way or another.

The plastics from a blood bag thing is interesting. I seem to recall way back in 2006 there was some claim that Landis had received intravenous fluids following the S16 debacle, and that this was a banned procedure that he should/could have been sanctioned for regardless of the outcome of the T doping case. If indeed that is true (that such procedures are banned), then it doesn’t matter whether or not they can distinguish between plastic from a blood bag and plastic from some other bag. Perhaps that is one reasoning for banning all types of intravenous procedures.

M October 1, 2010 at 11:37 am

Seems to me that the testers are doing their due diligence here for the initial decision, attempting to assess the contaminated meat theory versus transfusion or some other intentional ingestion by performing additional tests, rather than waiting for the accused to raise these issues on appeal, like the swimmer Hardy.

Query why they didn’t do so for the Chinese cyclist. Perhaps because he couldn’t point to a specific tainted meat source. But in a way neither can Contador, since the meat is not available for testing.

Re: whether Contador can meet either the “no substantial negligence” for a reduction in his sanction to one year. or the more stringent “no negligence” standard that would allow him to get off completely.

Take a look at the Richard Gasquet case. http://www.tas-cas.org/d2wfiles/document/3862/5048/0/Award%201926%20+%201930%20INTERNET.pdf

Gasquet tested positive for a very very low concentration of cocaine.

CAS found Gasquet met the no negligence standard, where he claimed ingestion was from a kisses by a girl (who was later found to be a habitual cocaine user) in a bar, and where he was able to exclude other sources of ingestion by expert testimony and other evidence, including hair tests showing he had not ingested recreational doses of cocaine over the time period in question.

It will be hard for Contador to meet these standards, since he doesn’t have the allegedly contaminated meat, and as of now, it doesn’t appear that he can exclude other sources of ingestion that would result in such a low concentration, especially blood transfusion. Interestingly, one only needs to show the source of ingestion by the balance of the probabilities, 51% likelihood.

I seem to recall some other doping case of an athlete who claimed he was drunk and unconscious at a bar and some girl kissed him or gave him a drink. CAS said it was error for the arbitrators not to believe the un-contradicted testimony, even though the story seemed far fetched on its face.

Larry@IIATMS October 1, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Rant, I’ve just posted this same question over at The Science of Sport web site, as I remain skeptical about the reported Cb concentrations in Contador’s sample.

We have (as best as I can tell) only two “original” pieces of source material to work from: the de Boer report, and the UCI press release. The UCI press release says only that “the concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms [per milliliter]”. But de Boer says a little bit more. He says that the Cb concentration was “very low”, that “the applied method was not quantitative”, but that “it may be estimated that the concentration was in the range of 50 pg/mL.”

Both reports describe the 50 pg/mL as an “estimate”, and de Boer describes it as an estimate “in the range”. Neither report says that this figure is a “measurement” or anything definitive. Moreover, while we’ve all assumed that the 50 pg/mL figure was something measured by the lab, neither the UCI nor de Boer tells us this. In fact, de Boer’s language seems purposefully vague (“it may be estimated that …”). “It may be estimated” does not tell us who “may” have made the estimate, nor does it tell us whether this concentration “may” also be measured lower or higher.

I’ll throw one other piece of evidence into the mix. You know about Fuyu Li, a cyclist formerly on the Radio Shack team, who received a two year suspension earlier this year after he tested positive for Cb. Li protested his innocence, and de Boer was brought in to defend Li. de Boer reported that Li’s Cb concentration was 0.05 – 0.1. ng/mL, essentially the same as he’s reporting for Contador. http://www.dailypeloton.com/displayarticle.asp?pk=16821. Coincidence? Or are we dealing with what might unscientifically be described as a wild guess?

Let’s go back to de Boer’s admission that the Contador test was not quantitative. I now need to remember the little I learned about PED testing in the Landis case. I’m assuming that the testing here is performed with GC/MS techniques. GC/MS tests are reported in two ways: (1) in a chromatogram graph that measures when a particular substance emerged from the GC — this is an X-Y graph with peaks and valleys, and (2) in a mass spectrum graph that represents a “fingerprint” of the relative quantities of the ions contained in each peak. In order to determine that Contador’s sample contained Cb, the German lab would have looked at the mass spectrum from one of the peaks, and matched it to the ion “fingerprint” for Cb.

I now move into an area where my knowledge of GC/MS gets hazier … but what would the lab have done if it had tried to measure the concentration of Cb in Contador’s sample? If my understanding is correct, the lab would have looked at the Cb peak height in the chromatogram. This peak height would indicate the relative intensity of the Cb in the urine sample, but it wouldn’t give you a measurement of its concentration. To get this concentration, you’d have to do something else, like test a sample spiked with a known concentration of Cb and compare the results to the results you’ve received from Contador.

I’m no scientist. I could be all wet here. Maybe they’re testing using a technique other than GC/MS. But the general question still stands: if the test for Cb is not quantitative, then how is someone (we don’t know who) coming up with concentration estimates and how reliable are these estimates?

MikeG October 1, 2010 at 12:50 pm

If this quote from William’s AP piece is accurate, Cb seems like an IDEAL cyclists drug: Clenbuterol has been used for years by bodybuilders to increase their muscle mass and reduce fat. The drug also increases the body’s aerobic capacity by making more oxygen available for muscles to work. Clenbuterol is also thought to help the body burn more fat, giving athletes a longer energy supply. Its short-term effects are similar to amphetamine drugs.

I also came across this over at The Science of Sport:
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.

Here is the full article:

MikeG October 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Sorry to post so many comments, but the science of all this is very interesting! This is worth a read:
Opinion from Christiane Ayotte, as well as more information on meat contamination by Fernando Ramos, a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal who has studied clenbuterol contamination in meat for 20 years

brian ledford October 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Where is the main cost of drug testing? Is it in the sample collection/storage or is it the actual testing? because it would be really nice to know that you had a full tour’s worth of blood and urine on every rider should you need it. I think contador’s story would either hold up or fall apart if you had a week’s worth of blood and urine on either side of of the positive.

Larry@IIATMS October 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm

M, agreed. Thanks for citing the Richard Gasquet case. That’s got to be one of the best decisions ever written on one of the strangest cases ever decided: do we ban a tennis player from competition (1) because cocaine was found in a urine sample he gave in a tennis tournament, when he never played in the tournament and had withdrawn from the tournament because of injury, when the only grounds for suspension is that the test was given “in competition”, (2) for the presence of an amount of cocaine in his system that was way too small to have had any effect on him, and that all admitted must have entered his system by accident, (3) when the most likely explanation for the cocaine was that the tennis player kissed a girl who was proven to be a cocaine user? Leading up to the CAS writing a decision containing a sentence that has to go down in the annals of law as one of the best sentences ever written:

“No Anti-Doping Programme can impose an obligation on an athlete not to go out to a restaurant where he might meet an attractive stranger whom he might later be tempted to kiss.”

Of course, both WADA and the International Tennis Federation WERE arguing that the WADA Code DOES impose such an obligation!

I guess it was a good thing for Gasquet that the girl he kissed was attractive! It also seemed to matter to the CAS that he met the girl in a restaurant, the kind of place where “nice” girls congregate, and not in a nightclub.

What a world, Mr. M.

M October 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm


The even more bizarre case I was thinking of was the para-olympian Jeff Adams case. He claimed that an unidentified woman forced cocaine into his mouth while he was pretending to be sleeping at a bar. When he urinated that evening he claimed his catheter became contaminated, and the same catheter was used to give his urine samples in competition one week later. The arbitration panel found his story implausible, as do I.

CAS found in his favor on the grounds that his testimony was un-controverted if I recall correctly. Query, how did he know that the powder smeared on his lips was cocaine? I can’t find the decision right now. It doesn’t appear to be on the CAS site. But this case could provide some slim support for the Contador defense, of course he would have no basis for asserting that he knew the meat was tainted, unlike Jeff Adams, who presumably somehow knew what cocaine tasted like!

On the other hand, claims of spiked drinks at bars have been rejected by CAS in other cases.

M October 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Rant and Jeff,

According to the study, cited on Daily Peloton forums, the test for plastic residues measures the levels in blood or urine. The researchers found that those levels were much higher for 48 hours after a transfusion, than for a control group who had not transfused. So this test does take into account the background plastic residues in all of us. I think the problem with the test for anti-doping purposes is that it is not powerful enough, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. The test is not certified, so can’t be used to prove a doping violation.

But if Contador’s plastic levels were high on the day in question, but returned to control group levels for his later samples, this would be an indication of a transfusion and would be evidence against the meat contamination claim.

I wonder if the lab is empowered to test his later samples without his consent.

Jeff October 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Here is a link to the study:

Interesting, but not a slam dunk, imo.

And yes. They can test his samples for the next ~8 years, for as long as the samples last. WADA Code indicates the samples do not belong to Contador, though they originated from his “organism”.

Larry@IIATMS October 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm

M, Jeff Adams is a friend of this site and occasional commenter. His case is way off the scale when it comes to strange cases, but that’s a combination of the facts of his case (the CAS found that he ingested cocaine as the result of an “assault”) and the complications that come from Jeff’s disability.

The plastics test in question is, I think, pretty well established stuff. I found a reference to it on a U.S. HHS site, see here: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=377&tid=65. The question is not whether the test is any good, but whether levels of DEHP might be caused by something other than a blood transfusion — for example, by drinking lots of water from plastic bottles. But I don’t think the test would need to be WADA-validated to help the prosecution here. Even if it’s not WADA-validated, it would potentially be evidence given some sort of weight in determining whether a preponderance of the evidence supported Contador’s beef story.

MikeG, the stuff you’re pointed to is VERY damning for Contador — the worst evidence I’ve seen against him yet. Contador’s case is dependent on his arguing that (1) the levels of Cb in Contador’s sample are not consistent with any intentional use of this drug, and (2) it COULD have been contaminated beef. The sources you cite indicate that the levels of Cb in Contador’s sample are entirely consistent with intentional use, and (2) it COULD NOT have been the beef (it could have been the liver, but Contador has claimed that he ate “beef”. Does “beef” mean “steak” only, or could it include “liver”?).

Now, if it wasn’t the beef, it could have been something else, such as a contaminated supplement. But it’s not going to help Contador if he has to change stories.

Rant October 1, 2010 at 7:54 pm


No worries about me taking that the wrong way, I understand exactly what you mean.


You raise a number of interesting points. My concern about the test is whether it’s specific enough to blood bags, or whether other products that might be used could trigger a positive result. For example, a number of cyclists use Camelbak “hydration systems” when riding a time trial. Part of the setup is a flexible tube/hose that runs from the container to the rider’s mouth. Does that tube use the same kind of plasticizers? If that were the case, would using a Camelbak cause a false positive. Or, if a rider was transfused with saline solution, in order to rehydrate for the next day’s races, would that cause a false positive? If things like that could happen, the test isn’t worth much. If not, then it could be useful.

For Contador’s situation, it certainly wouldn’t help him any if such a test shows the presence of the DEHP. His biggest problem is providing a plausible explanation — as you note, 51% more likely than not — as to where the clenbuterol came from. Without the meat to test (I’m sure it’s long gone, even other cuts from other parts of the same animal), he’s not in nearly as good a position as Jessica Hardy was. But even if he can convince an arbitration panel that it might have happened the way he said, then I still think the best he can hope for is a reduced suspension. Of course, that’s if the UCI actually passes the case to the Spanish Cycling Federation, and I’m not placing any bets on that. (Then again, if the UCI doesn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised to see WADA take the case to the CAS.)

On a different note, Jeff Adams’ story certainly sounds bizarre. But in his case, he had witnesses who saw what the woman did to him, and I believe he may have filed a police report of the incident, though on that point I’d have to check. As for knowing what cocaine tastes like, I think that’s a bit of speculation. If you’re an athlete and someone shoves a substance in your mouth, you might not know what it was, but you’d be right to be worried about it. I think his full account of what happened in on his web site, if you’re interested.

It’s probably the strangest case I’ve ever heard of or read about. But there’s an old saying about truth being stranger than fiction. And whether it sounds implausible or not, Jeff’s story is right up there on the strange scale.

[Just an aside, the Jeff commenting in this thread isn’t Jeff Adams, in case anyone is wondering.]

INDICT FRAUD LANDIS October 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Did you see that Contador expects BEEFGATE to be resolved in 8-10 days?! The guy is delusional! My fave part is where he threatens to quit cycling if he’s suspended &/or loses this year’s Tour win. This guy has NO idea that what he’s “been through” so far is just the freakin PRELUDE.


Anyone? Anyone?

INDICT FRAUD LANDIS October 4, 2010 at 3:02 pm

And hey, did you see that Pistolero says the UCI supposedly told him to tell NO ONE, including his old/new teams? The problem I have believing this is that Contador lies ALMOST as much as Sarah Palin.

However, if it isn’t true, why didn’t the UCI jump out there today & deny,deny,deny?

Liggett junkie October 4, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Oh, I know. This is like, my favorite cycling story, ever. It’s got everything I ever wanted: Pau, contaminated cows, discourteous French hotel staff, clunkily-named drugs, plastic as a villain, Vino as a peripheral character/victim, a lab that does its job too well, and an unending stream of increasingly preposterous lies from that backstabbing, fingerbanging, non-English-speaking, oops-my-radio-broke-again-complaining case of arrested development and his posse. I promise you, if he gets off with the three months’ suspension plus retention of his Tour de France fruit bowl that he seems to expect, then *I* will be the one to quit cycling. And I won’t go quietly; although I’ll leave the INDICT ALBERTO CONTADOR nom de plume available for another.

Velonation.com has been extremely helpful at summarizing all the little details that make this story the wonder that it is, so you might want to have a look over there. That’s where I got the name and location of the hotel. And here are the pictures!


But I want to be fair about it. Here’s a piece of evidence that Team Contador may wish to adduce, as it may possibly work in their favor:

“Nice rooms with free newspapers and nice pool. Very close to McDonalds and KFC which is great given how hard it is to find food in Pau centre. Easy parking.” Quoted from —


P.S. I’m glad the Spanish half of Team Astana wasn’t reduced to going to McDonald’s though.

P.P.S. And Alberto — don’t let the door hit you on the way out. (It’s an American idiom. Get someone to explain it to you. Ciao!)

sandranian October 4, 2010 at 5:49 pm

It appears now that the Spanish beef industry is fighting back: The drug that was found in Contador’s urine is illegal for use in cattle in Spain, and the industry itself is subject to stringent controls as a result of the “mad cow” scare. They are saying it couldn’t have come from the beef….

Add “every Spanish cowboy” to the ever-expanding enemies list for Contador!

William Schart October 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm

The contaminated beef story is in effect, an admission that indeed, clem was in his system. This almost seems to me to imply that AC knew a priori that there was clem and had fabricated a plausible theory as to how it got there. If indeed the beef was contaminated, it wasn’t likely that he knew that, unless the chef came in and said “Oh $#!7, I served you the wrong beef, that was the beef I intended to sabotage the Radio Shack team with”. (Interesting thought, has anybody ever thought of using dope to influence a race by spiking a competator’s food/drink? Wouldn’t be all that hard to pull off, I’m thinking.)

Anyway, AC has no defense to keep his victory, unless the alphabets choose to ignore the strict liability standard. It would be pretty hard at this point in time to backtrack and try to show that the lab result was flawed.

Larry@IIATMS October 4, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I am trying not to think like a lawyer for the moment. Forget the WADA rules for the moment. Also, let’s put aside the resentment we may feel about how one or more of our favorite cyclists may have been treated by the ADAs. Put it all aside. What’s the right thing to do here?

Here’s one take on what is the right thing to do: you let Contador go with a slap on the wrist.

First thought: it does not appear that Contador intended to dope with Clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour. OK, there’s no way to prove this, I’m just going by the evidence. There was only a small amount of Cb measured in Contador’s system, probably too small to do him any good. There’s no one claiming that cyclists microdose with Cb during a race. Cb is relatively easy stuff to detect; it’s not likely that Contador would have used it during a race where he was being constantly tested.

We cannot know for certain, but it appears highly likely that Cb was in Contador’s system by accident.

So … how did the Cb get into Contador’s system? One possible answer is blood doping. There are other possible answers: it could have been the beef (though THAT particular story seems more and more unlikely as we move forward). It could have been a contaminated supplement. It could have been some other exposure to something else in the environment that had some Cb in it.

Our first conclusion: if we’re looking for the only likely way that Contador could be faulted for the Cb in his system, it would be because the Cb entered his system via blood doping.

The next obvious conclusion is: if we’re arguing that the Cb got into his system by blood doping, then this case fairly becomes a blood doping case and not a Cb case. The Cb in Contador’s system was too little to have helped him last July, but if Contador blood doped, that’s the kind of thing that truly COULD be performance-enhancing.

So … the next logical question is, do we have a blood doping case against Contador? The answer seems to be “no”. His biological passport numbers did not trigger an adverse finding. Whatever evidence there might be of plasticizers in Contador’s blood stream, this evidence was not serious enough to bring any action against Contador. The only reason we’re discussing blood doping is because of the Cb.

My ultimate conclusion is that we should go after Contador for blood doping, or not go after him at all. Since there’s not enough evidence for the ADAs to proceed against Contador for blood doping, I think they should let this one go … if they can.

OK. To let Contador go would mean that he’d be receiving special treatment, because others have been punished by the ADAs for innocently having small amounts of Cb in their systems. True enough. I say that we all swallow hard and live with that. It is crazy to keep punishing athletes like Contador for technical violations of the WADA code that gave them no performance enhancement, and where we can’t prove that they intentionally acted to break the rules.

I think this is probably the conclusion they’ve already reached over at the UCI. The Spanish cycling federation probably agrees. The French ADA and the ASO (the company that runs the Tour de France) may not agree, but I don’t know that they have anything to say here. That leaves WADA.

The presence of Cb in Contador’s system is a clear violation of WADA’s “strict liability” rules. WADA can appeal the UCI’s decision to the Court for Arbitration for Sport. This is what WADA has done in every similar case that’s ever been made public, but not every case is public. WADA may feel that it has some discretion NOT to act in certain cases … or it may feel that it has to act, that every technical violation of its rules should lead to sanctions.

The ball is in WADA’s court. Or so it seems.

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