Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Contador Investigation: Ruling Overturned by Spanish Federation

 News reports that are hot off the press are saying that Alberto Contador's one-year suspension has been overturned by the body that gave him the suspension: the Spanish cycling federation.

This is the same body that gave Contador the reduced, one-year, sentence last month! What gives?! Here are my thoughts.

Many news sources have been anticipating that this was going to happen. For example, an article on VeloNation notes that this apparent flip-flop by the Spanish federation is very unusual. Here are a few quotes from VeloNation
"According to USADA’s chief executive Travis Tygart, the complete clearing of Contador would be a very unusual situation." "It’s a very, very unique set of facts that would justify someone being completely cleared, so unique that we haven’t seen it at all, at least here in the United States,” said Tygart to the New York Times. He said that he didn’t know the details of the decision, but said that he’d be concerned that the RFEC could propose a year ban in January, then completely change its mind. “If there’s truly been a flip-flop, as reported, it appears to be a classic example of the fox protecting the henhouse. It would look like they are protecting a national hero.”
In an article posted on VeloNation on Monday, it says that the reason for overturning the decision has to do with another case. Specifically, the article states:
..the decision was based on the case of the German table tennis player Dmitrij Ovtcharov. He tested positive for the same substance, claimed he ate it in contaminated meat while competing in China. His national federation declined to sanction him, and WADA told VeloNation last week that it would not appeal the decision.

However there are two notable differences in Ovtcharov’s case: the first is that he was competing in China, where there are far less controls on meat production and a known high usage of Clenbuterol. The second is that that he reportedly was able to provide hair samples which pointed towards the accidental ingestion of the chemical.

There have been no suggestions that Contador provided hair samples at the time of his positive test. The rider himself has accepted that there is only a small likelihood of food contamination in Europe.
While I completely agree with this analysis, (see this link for more information regarding European controls over meat production) there is at least one other key detail that I don't believe has ever been resolved. That is, originally it was reported that Contador was shown to have high levels of plasticizers in him at the same time that the clenbuterol was found. When this news hit, it appeared to spell doom to Contador's beef alibi. Soon thereafter, it was reported that one of Alberto's teammates told the news that Alberto took clenbuterol earlier in the season and then, during the rest stage of the Tour de France, transfused this tainted blood into his body without knowing some clenbuterol remained. As such, the plasticizer test seems to explain how the small amount of clenbuterol got into his system.

Now this plasticizer result is a critical piece of information that appears to have been brushed under the rug. My hunch is that Contador's attorneys have fought to have this evidence ignored because the test for plasticizers was not yet approved. However, originally it was stated that this test could be used to inform the clenbuterol finding.

In my view there are at least three huge unanswered questions in this case. It appears Contador was able to get the ruling overturned because those who are given charge to keep the sport clean have once again caved in. The articles say that this ruling could be appealed and overturned by the UCI or WADA. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a previous blog, the steak eating technicality was, according to Alberto himself, originally given to him by the UCI. As such, the chances of the UCI overturning this ruling on its star performer must be very slim.

This case reminds me of another cyclist who won the Tour de France seven times and, although a urine test showed he took EPO on several ocassions and a doping expert has publicly stated that there is no doubt he doped, he proudly proclaims that he was the most tested athlete on the planet and he never was proven to dope. Maybe Contador will be making the same statements in a few years.

Ironically, boasting about not being found to be doping may be the biggest accomplishment that these athletes can truly point to. It's as if they are saying: I was never shown to have doped! As such, I'm the winner and all my competitors who were caught are losers!

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