The 2010 winner of the Tour de France has tested positive for a banned substance. Doping authorities have revealed Alberto Contador tested positive for clenbuterol on July 21. Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator—a stimulant used to treat asthma.
The defense has already spun into high gear. Dr. Douwe de Boer, an “independent expert,” has concluded that the clenbuterol must have come from contaminated meat. The concentration level of clenbuterol found in Contador’s system was at trace levels, meaning there hadn’t been enough in his system to aid his performance the previous day. However, Contador was also tested the two days prior to the positive test, on July 19 and 20. Tests from those days show no trace of clenbuterol.
Permit me a moment of suspicion: Are we really meant to believe that clenbuterol routinely contaminates meat but of the thousands of test samples cyclists give each year only Alberto Contador consumed enough contaminated meat to result in a positive test—and it just happened to occur during the Tour de France?
Even though we’re just finding out about this in the last week of September, Contador has known of the finding since August 24 and WADA has known even longer. It’s fair to ask: Why did it take so long for the news to come out? It didn’t take this long with Landis.
We have several possibilities to consider:
1) Contador is innocent. He just got really unlucky and ate something (maybe meat) that was accidentally tainted.
2) Contador really did use clenbuterol. The lab employed by WADA did crappy work and didn’t find clenbuterol that was in his system on July 19 and 20.
3) Contador is being framed. Someone tried to sabotage Contador by spraying an asthma inhaler on his food.
Of these three options, the one that would surprise me the least is #2. Contador would hardly be the first cyclist to use asthma medication to dope. But while #2 would be the least surprising explanation, I cannot say that I think #1 or #3 are out of the realm of possibility.
I’d really like to know why it took so long for the news to come out. There’s more to this part of the story than meets the eye. Was there some sort of effort at a coverup that only proved untenable after several weeks’ consideration?
This is bad for cycling. No matter what the reason, this is precisely the attention cycling doesn’t need. And while I want the truth to come out, no explanation can remove the black eye this event will leave. The horse is out of the barn: another Tour de France champion is positive for dope. That story line will follow this year’s Tour de France for good.