Contador reinforces cycling’s association with drugs

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    Lance Armstrong, one not to watch. AP Photo/Christophe Ena

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    This has been an epochal week for cycling – a sport which, despite best efforts, cannot distance itself from the poisonous association with performance-enhancing drugs.

    This week marked the conclusion of the investigations into the two most successful cyclists of the recent era: Lance Armstrong (winner of seven Tours de France yellow jerseys and Alberto Contador (a three-time winner).

    The circumstances of the cases were very different. The Armstrong case related to fraudulent use of funding via the grants that the U.S federal government provided to Armstrong’s team US Postal.

    The alleged fraud was the use of the funds to engage in illegal doping.

    As we all know, Armstrong was never found with contraband in his system, despite literally thousands of tests throughout his long career. The case against Armstrong was based on evidence given by certain former teammates and staffers of US Postal who claim to have seen Armstrong use the illegal substances or methods.

    I will return to the merits of this case later, but draw for now the distinction with Contador, who during the final stages of his last win at the Tour de France in 2010 was found with small traces of Clenbuturol in his system.

    This week the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the appeal lodged by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the UCI (the world cycling body) relating to this offence.

    Thus while the circumstances and even the outcome of the two cases is somewhat different, the impact on cycling will be the same. The headlines will cement the belief in most people that the superhuman efforts we see every European summer are exactly that.

    Cycling has had a long association with performance-enhancing drugs. During last year’s Tour de France, SBS aired a fascinating documentary about the life and death of Tom Simpson, Britain’s first road cyclist to wear the yellow jersey, and a famous rogue.

    Simpson won the 1965 Road Race World Championship and several Classics before dying in the 13th Stage of the 1967 Tour de France from exhaustion. In the post mortem, he was found to have both amphetamine and alcohol in his system.

    In that same documentary it was claimed to be common for the domestiques (in the pre-professional era) to stop on the side of the road to try to find sustenance from the roadside shop keepers, who often provided them with alcohol. This seems ridiculous now, but at the time a lot less was known about hydration, and the riders simply knew that it dulled the pain of riding up steep gradients for hours on end.

    I need not name the raft of high-profile riders who have been done for drugs in the last fifteen years, save three: Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Alexander Vinokourov. These three are of special interest because two rode for Armstrong in his prime; all three have links to Dr Michele Ferrari (the disgraced doctor who looked after the US Postal team for a period) and all three have been found guilty of doping offences.

    Furthermore, Hamilton and Landis now claim that Armstrong also cheated.

    The primary purpose of the recently aborted U.S Federal Investigation was to get to the bottom of these fresh allegations made by former Armstrong team-mates and friends. No reason was proffered by the U.S Federal Attorney for dropping the investigation; it could have been lack of evidence but most have speculated that it was a financial decision.

    Whatever the case, Armstrong’s legacy and cycling’s reputation do not benefit from the resulting ambiguity.

    While Armstrong cannot be guilty by association, the associations certainly raise doubts. As of this week we probably have to accept the fact that we will simply never know. Nor will we know whether the minute traces of Clenbuturol found in Contador’s system did come from contaminated meat as he claims.

    What is clear is that cycling’s image crisis continues.

    Some say it is an inevitable by-product of such a physically gruelling endurance sport where the athletes are pushed to their physical limits, but that does not wash when we compare it to marathon running and Iron Man, sports which have not suffered from as many high profile doping cases.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • February 9th 2012 @ 5:33am
      MisterPhotoCyclist said | February 9th 2012 @ 5:33am | ! Report

      Oh come on. How naive are you? Cycling will always be tagged with doping as long as people like you continue to drag up past associations with drugs. Are you tellingus that all other sports are clean? How did Nadal manage nearly 11 hours of gruelling slogging in the Australian Open? Was he, and the other as consistently dope tested as our cyclists are? And how about other major sports you’re telling me they are clean too? Come on, get real. The only reason cycling is in the frame is that it has come clean and declred itslef to be a no-doping zone. That won’t stop riders doing it but the penalties for getting caught are clear.
      So please, lets concentrate on the 99% who are clean and leave the fakers to their own fate.

      • February 9th 2012 @ 3:59pm
        amazonfan said | February 9th 2012 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

        All other sports are not clean. That is just silly. However few sports have the history of doping that cycling has. As for Nadal, there is no evidence that he dopes. Tennis doesn’t have the history of doping that cycling has, and to suggest that Nadal has doped strikes me as just a diversionary tactic.

        • February 9th 2012 @ 9:58pm
          sittingbison said | February 9th 2012 @ 9:58pm | ! Report

          That’s the point really, tennis doesn’t have a history of drug use because scandalously they haven’t ever had a program. Perhaps you should do some research into Operacion Peurto and who was implicated before the authorities became petrified at the names and closed it down prematurely and blanket absolving said names

          • February 9th 2012 @ 11:43pm
            amazonfan said | February 9th 2012 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

            That’s true. However, you can’t just take someone’s name out of a hat. Just as nobody is suggesting that Evans takes drugs, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that Nadal does either. It’s just speculation based on zero evidence. Nobody has even come out and said that they saw him injecting, for example.

          • February 10th 2012 @ 8:37am
            B.A Sports said | February 10th 2012 @ 8:37am | ! Report

            Peter Korda, Martina Hingis, Jenny Capriati, Andre Agassi, Richard Gasquet and a bunch of no-names you wouldn’t have heard of, have all returned positive tests.

    • February 9th 2012 @ 9:44am
      B.A Sports said | February 9th 2012 @ 9:44am | ! Report


      You obviously haven’t caught up with the most recent news. Now that an Australian has won, nobody (in this country anyway) is allowed to point the finger and shake their heads at the mockery to sport that road cycling has become – the way they did for the last 10 years. Because now that an Australian has won, the sport is 100% clean don’t you know….

    • February 9th 2012 @ 9:45am
      Mick said | February 9th 2012 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      If they tested sportsmen in Australia as often as cyclists get tested in the Tour there would be no sport left in oz.

      I think I read somewhere that some cyclists have been tested for 30 consecutive days as well as the other testing throughout the year.

      In oz they complain about giving 1/2 a dozen tests a year

    • February 9th 2012 @ 9:52am
      Andrew Leonard said | February 9th 2012 @ 9:52am | ! Report

      Whilst it is good – and the right decision – that the ban has been implemented for Contador, Joe failed to mention that the amount found would have done nothing to improve his performance. That is not an excuse, it just shows that Cycling is more stringent than ever in detecting and outlawing doping of any kind. They are prepared to take out the big names and are the most advanced sport in testing procedures to eliminate all forms of doping.

      However as Joe correctly states, unless all the details and facts are presented to the public, the perception will continue that cycling is a sport infiltrated by by drug cheats, which as MisterPhotoCyclist comments is not true. The few that do cheat now, get caught and that is a good thing.

      • February 9th 2012 @ 1:32pm
        Jimbo said | February 9th 2012 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

        All the low level means is that most of the drug has already left his system – it could easily be accounted for by the blood transfusion hypothesis, or micro dosing.

        As for triathlons and marathons, I would like to know how stringent the testing procedures are for those sports – cycling is huge in Europe, and I suspect there is a lot more money in it than both of those sports, and hence more stringent drug testing procedures.

        • February 9th 2012 @ 7:52pm
          Bob said | February 9th 2012 @ 7:52pm | ! Report

          You might have a point, if they had not also tested him the day before and found no clenbuterol in his system.

          The DHEP was found the day before, not that day. So the transfusion story doesn’t work, either.

          I have no doubt he doped in a general sense, but I doubt he deliberately doped with clenbuterol.

          • February 9th 2012 @ 11:24pm
            Jimbo said | February 9th 2012 @ 11:24pm | ! Report

            You ignore the fact that the panel also noted that his reticulocyte count during the tour was higher than his baseline measurement, and significantly higher than his values from previous tours – which seems odd in the extreme from a physiological perspective. As the report notes, however, the appellants in the case (WADA) were unable to to argue the merits of the blood doping case, as the only subject matter in the appeal was how the clenbuterol entered Contador’s body, and blood passport values were not considered relevant – hence WADA did not want to prove per se that a blood transfusion occurred, only that it was more likely than contaminated meat (Here is the report:; check from page 73 onward)

            Additionally, Contador could have had a blood transfusion on the 20th (causing the presence of plasticisers), and a plasma transfusion on the 21st to dilute the blood to maintain a normal blood profile (plasma doesn’t need to be stored in a DHEP bag) which would have caused the clenbuterol spike, but not the plasticiser spike. (see page 81 of the report)

            My problem is that, given the steak scenario was considered equally implausible, the question remains how did the clenbuterol enter his system? The contaminated supplement scenario falls down in that as the report itself notes, there would have been a high likelihood that at least one of his team mates would have tested positive if the supplements were contaminated, and additionally, Contador approached the supplement manufacturers and confirmed that none store prohibited substances in their warehouses, all undertake independent testing of their products with no adverse findings reported, and none have ever been blamed for an athlete’s positive test.

    • February 9th 2012 @ 11:03am
      sittingbison said | February 9th 2012 @ 11:03am | ! Report

      I think that is four articles in a row that have presented the “Lance was never caught and is the most tested athlete on the planet”. Please oh please stop! He has been caught with “contraband in his system”. I can’t be bothered saying it all again, but please stop parroting from Lances PR and do a bit of research.

      Here is a keyword to help: saddlesore

      • February 9th 2012 @ 2:45pm
        jameswm said | February 9th 2012 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

        Marion Jones never tested positive – that we know of, anyway. Nor many others.

        Fact is that when Lance was cycling the cheating was ahead of the testing. There wasn’t even a test for EPO – and when there was and they went back and tested Lace’s B samples, he was found to have doped.

    • February 9th 2012 @ 1:46pm
      Frank said | February 9th 2012 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

      If ironmen had to race back to back for 3 weeks maybe they’d be tempted to take a little special sauce with their steak. If you look at last years TDF the racing hasn’t been closer, this in its self is proof of a more level playing field. Yes its been rife but times are a changing, cycling I predict will become bigger than tennis & motor racing in this country.

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