Thursday, March 24, 2011

Contador Investigation: UCI Says "Not So Fast Alberto..."

The UCI announce today that they will put their foot down in the Alberto Contador-clenbuterol case and has appealed his decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. As you know, this case first came to light last Fall after it was announced that Alberto failed some tests during last year's Tour de France which showed that he had trace amounts of clenbuterol in his system during the tour. Interestingly, the clenbuterol just showed up one day in very small amounts.

As I have blogged earlier, soon after we learned Alberto had clenbuterol in his system it was also revealed that Alberto also had plasticizers in his system. A new, unapproved, test for plasticizers was used to see if Alberto had been blood doping and it appeared he was. However, the test was not yet an approved part of the regulators' arsenal of tools that they could use to find a cheater. Even so, the word was that the plasticizer test could be used to shed light on another test, as it appeared to in this case. The plasticizer theory goes like this:
  1. Alberto transfused some blood earlier in the season and stored it so he could use it in July during the TdF.
  2. Because Alberto was using clenbuterol earlier in the season to become more lean, the blood he transfused had a trace of clenbuterol left in it.
  3. During the rest stage of the TdF, Alberto transfused his tainted blood in order to refresh his body and give him the hematocrit boost he needed.
  4. The doping tests of the TdF winner showed a trace amount coming out of nowhere during the rest stage.
Of course, Alberto had his own theory. Actually, not his own theory since, as blogged previously, Alberto reported that the UCI gave him this theory about the time they told him that he failed the tests. The theory is that he didn't eat with the team during and decided, instead, to get a steak from a friend who bought the steak from some rogue farmer in Spain who was using clenbuterol to beef up his cows. As absurd as this all sounds, it has occasionally happened, especially in third-world countries but, the evidence shows that in Spain it is a very rare event

The drama continues when the Spanish federation first decides to reduce Alberto's ban from two to one year. Then, in a surprise move last month, they issue their final ruling and say they believe the UCI's steak theory. Meanwhile, we haven't hear anything more about the plasticizer evidence since it broke out last fall.

My guess is that WADA is telling the UCI that if they don't put their foot down, they will since WADA has already said that they reject the tainted beef theory. Given all this, here are two questions I would like answered in this case:
  1. What is the role of the plasticizer evidence? In other words, are the ruling bodies going to use it or not? If they plan to ignore it because it isn't an approved test then tell us but don't just act like it never happened.
  2. What evidence is compelling enough to eliminate any ban? In other words, I believe the rule is that the burden of proof shifts to the rider when they fail a drug test at any level. Once they found clenbuterol in Alberto's system, it was up to him to prove that the beef he ate was the source. Apparently, the Spanish federation either is choosing to ignore this protocol or Alberto's lawyers have some compelling evidence. Given the appeal, my guess is WADA isn't buying it.
In the end, I also wonder what will become of all the races Alberto is winning right now if the finding is overturned? I doubt that any of the other podium racers are going to be able to enjoy their rightful position on the podium when the UCI changes their result from, say, 2nd to 1st because Alberto should not have been racing. 

It's just a bit too anticlimactic...

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