Friday Group Ride #56

Today, there is only one cyclist on planet Earth, and he’s suspended. Unless you’re dead, you’ve read the story. The Spanish cycling federation has proposed a one-year suspension  for Alberto Contador, subsequent to his positive clenbuterol test from last summer’s Tour de France. The rider can appeal the proposal, though who knows what that means, and he has vowed, through his spokesman to fight any sanction.

This week’s Group Ride asks the obvious question: Has Contador been treated fairly?

David Garcia received a two year suspension for an EPO positive at the Vuelta, as the rules stipulate he must. Assuming Contador is guilty (which the UCI and Spanish federation must believe he is) is Garcia’s offense worse than Contador’s?

Of course, EPO isn’t found in beef, as a matter of course, but the anti-doping codes don’t seem to differentiate between substances an athlete has to buy on the black martket versus substances that might be ingested in food or supplements.

Callum Priestley, a young English hurdler, was recently suspended for two years on the back of a Clenbuterol positive. Like Contador, he blamed tainted meat, consumed in South Africa, for his adverse finding. The English didn’t care.

And of course, there’s Li Fuyu, the Radio Shack rider who was suspended for Clenbuterol in the spring of 2010. He too claimed contamination. The UCI didn’t care. He’s out for two years.

On the other side of the ledger,  Italian Alessandro Colo of the ISD-Neri team, also tested positive for the stimulant at last year’s Vuelta a Mexico, and he attributed his positive to eating contaminated meat in Mexico. Italian officials gave Colo a reduced, one-year sentence.

To my mind, Contador’s actual guilt seems secondary to the discussion. At this stage, it can seemingly neither be proved or disproved. What remains are the positive tests and the rules governing them.

We might argue that the rules could/should be changed, but that doesn’t get to the issue of whether or not Contador has had a fair shake. Clearly, the process that has brought us to this point in the story has been drawn out in a singular way. None of the other suspended athletes named here had so long to mount a defense or were given the option to respond to a “proposed” ban.

One might believe, however, that the protracted nature of proceedings has actually hurt Contador worse than an expeditious ban.

We leave that all to you though.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. amityskinnyguy

    Zero tolerance is the only option that I see at this time. Bin all detected dopers and cull the field. This is getting so lame.

  2. KK

    I agree about “guilt” being secondary. The rules call for a ban based on the result of a drug test, not on the rider’s intent. I’ve not seen that anyone is disputing the test results. “Fairness” or “justice” is a whole different discussion, and I haven’t seen anything that points to an intention to dope or an evening of innocent carnivorous enjoyment gone bad. His case is different than the other examples because he has deep pockets, filled with lawyers, and can make the next couple of years expensive for everybody.

  3. Anna D

    i have to admit, i’m getting a little tired of this “ban all dopers, now and forever” refrain. a lot of what i read on twitter is either, ban all dopers or, just give up. is there no middle ground anymore? banning all dopers is saying, no one makes mistakes, no one deserves a 2nd chance. look at david millar and Thomas Dekker- two examples of mistakes made and lessons learned.

    I don’t have any solutions, but i do know cycling needs to “trim the fat,” as they’re so fond of saying in politics, when it comes to dealing with dopers. there are too many agencies that all have a say and each agency taking 6 months or more to make a”final” decision is too much- it’s the indecision and inconsistency that’s killing cycling more than the doping!

  4. Touriste-Routier

    It seems to me you have answered your own question, or perhaps asked the wrong question. Contador has gotten off lighter than others, and was given extra time to mount a defense. Thus he has been treated relatively well (more than fair?), and perhaps the others guilty of similar offense have been treated inequitably.

  5. grolby

    Is Contador being treated fairly? No. A one year ban is incredibly generous. Under the strict liability terms of WADA, he should receive a two year ban for his offense. I don’t think that a one year ban is necessarily inappropriate, but there is absolutely no doubt that he has received less of a punishment than the anti-doping code calls for because of who he is. Today’s whining about how unfairly he has been treated was pathetic. Even if you are actually able to present a detailed and credible case for how the drug got into your system, you still get a one year ban. We’ve seen that happen. Given that we haven’t seen a particularly competent defense from Contador, and he’s still gotten essentially the minimum sanction possible, it’s hard to take him seriously at this point.

  6. Matt Walsh

    I think Alberto has been treated more than fairly. The UCI tried to hush things up and give him (and themselves) as much time as possible to deal with this. The Spanish Federation split the difference on a ban, going pretty easy on a favorite son. I say it could have been worse for Alberto. Yes, he was tried in the media and was the victim of endless speculation but when the sport is so poorly run, rumor and half truths take over.

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  8. Marco Placero

    Follow the money. Yes Contador is one tough S.O.B. on the bike, entertaining in a love-to-hate kinda way and admirable last year on the cobbles.
    Is he getting reasonable treatment? I agree with the thought thread implied, that extending decision time for him is a sword with two edges. On the one is enabling him to craft a credible defense, on the other is holding him in suspense while the process dangles and spins. But extending time for him likely cost him a lot of money. It’s likely that the other perps mentioned here don’t have the financial resources certain to be burned up by Contador. So is fairness relative to financial wherewithal?
    On another track, is the one year suspension tacit admission that governing bodies want Il Pistolero back ASAP? Are they giving him ‘only’ one year’s suspension as a trade hedging his threat to quit?

  9. eLK

    Does anyone or the UCI know why all these athletes are testing positive? Is the clenbuterol a masking drug? Why might it be present?

    What I’m wondering is if I would test positive? If I ate beef, once a day for a week, might I test positive?

    I don’t feel that I’m getting the complete story here.

  10. Brett

    Off topic: Maybe we can support our local farmers and sustainable organic food production now? It’d be a good step to cleaning some stuff up.

  11. David Fraenkel

    In considering the “fairness” of Contador’s situation, surely we should be concerned that this was one of only 10 samples that were sent to the Cologne lab, out of a total of 215 blood & 251 urine samples taken during the whole TdF. Cologne is alleged to be one of only four labs worldwide that can test for clembuterol down to the 50 picogram/ml levels detected (2 nanograms/ml being the required minimum required performance level (MRPL)).

    In the interests of transparency we should know how his presumably unnamed & coded samples were selected and why all urine samples were not treated the same way. If this was in the interests of “research” and then has such consequences, then we should at least be consistent & treating his Lanceness in the same fashion for his EPO +ve tests from ’99, regardless of legal loopholes such as statutes of limitations and consents.

    More fundamentally, unless there is an existing study of a control population (of presumed non-doping meat-eaters [& also vegans?]) we really don’t know the rate of “false positives” with this new & more sensitive test. The usual philosophy in testing for PEDs (eg the basis for the blood profiling of the biological passport) is that it is absolutely critical to avoid false positives, and thus the unfair and premature termination of careers and annulment of results, even at the cost of allowing through a few cheats. I don’t understand why this principle has suddenly been cast aside.

    FInally, while the rumoured results of the “plasticiser tests” are intriguing, they are exactly that – rumours wrt an unvalidated test that could be positive after something as innocent as drinking from new bidons. Once again, in the interests of fairness & consistency, we either ignore this or else strip Lance’s 7x TdF’s titles on the basis of the “research” EPO +ves in ’99.

    These problems are attributable to the still patchy implementation and opaque process of testing by the UCI & accredited labs. All samples should be treated the same, so we at least have the experience and thresholds to separate cheating from accidental contamination, and we treat all athletes tested in a consistent fashion.

  12. randomactsofcycling

    If my wife found 0.0000004 of a picogram of lipstick on my neck, I’d be banned for life. Contador has been treated generously and is getting off easy. Perhaps the UCI are doing Bjarne Riis a favour.

  13. Doug P

    No matter the decision, there will be many dissatisfied people. What is not acceptable is the delay. The governing bodies of cycling need to get their act together and move more quickly.

  14. Tim

    Zero tolerance is the only option under the current rules. Ignorance alone is not a valid defence, although it is acceptable as mitigation given how clenbuterol can occasionally turn up in the food chain due to unscrupulous farming practices. It is a slightly different case to EPO, where there is no chance of accidentally taking on board a trace amount – EPO cases are a bit more cut and dried.

    The problem with the one-year ban is it is neither here nor there. For me, it’s not a stiff enough deterrent, but at the same time if Contador is innocent (personally, I don’t believe he is, but that’s just my opinion) then a year’s ban is too long for a trace-positive test.

    The authorities should set a lower threshold so that if a tiny, non-performance enhancing amount is found in someone’s sample there is scope for a warning but not a ban. At least that way we avoid this murky grey area where we sometimes punish innocent athletes “just in case”.

  15. Hank

    The rules are the rules. The zero tolerance rule is not fair to athletes, but as long as it is the rule it should be applied the same for all riders. Unless he can produce some convincing evidence to back up his story (and if he had I’m sure the Spanish Federation would have gone to bat for him) AC should suck it up and move on. Dragging it out will do him no good.

    Basso came back to win the Giro. AC will still be at his peak age wise when he returns.

  16. Hank

    I should add that AC got the same 1 year suspension as athletes who have proven that they ingested the offending substance unintentionally but so far as I know he never provided the kind of proof those athletes provided. So he got a break that would not have been given to a lesser rider.

  17. Souleur


    That is the question this friday. A difficult question, perhaps impossible to find an answer to; as cyclists we perpetually twist the rubik cube of fairness and hope with each case, hoping it lands perfectly in sequence when we toss it on the floor to be finished with…as we go to the next prom dance and eventual ‘next case’.

    Just as there are ~1 million variables and chance that this rubik cube could land perfect, is the chance than any arbitration & judgement is ‘fair’. Fair to who is what I ask? By what measure?

    Fair to Contador?
    Fair to the clean PRO?
    Fair to France?
    Fair to Spain?
    Fair to me?…us?
    How about fairness in comparison to….Rasmussen? Floyd? Basso? & the x-guilty?
    Fair in perspective to past winners who have been found guilty in comparison to less significant riders who are minor leaguers?

    Fairness in my mind isn’t really something I personally can give out as in this case its not mine to give out and truthfully I am not looking for it. Justice is different, as is consequence as is equality. And then there is fairness.

  18. Nom

    I think this one year ban sets the wrong kind of precedent. Has any athlete caught for Clenbuterol ever admitted doping? Off course not, they ALL claim contamination. If it is on the banned list the sanction is clear. Otherwise Clenbuterol becomes the PED of choice because you only get a one year ban if you claim contamination.

  19. Burns

    Contador is guilty as charged.

    How deep are we willing to go in the stripping of titles? Is it fair to give a yellow jersey to the next step on the podium if he did not undergo the same required levels of controls?

    I have serious questions in my mind as to the innocence of much of the peloton after reading the Landis interview.

    I think there must be a period of immunity extended to the entire peloton and then get draconian in response to any subsequent doping, civil penalties plus sporting penalties.

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