The Inevitable

We saw this coming. Anyone who didn’t see a suspension looming for Alberto Contador probably didn’t think the worldwide real estate bubble would burst, that the summer of love would end or that drugs would continue to be a problem for cycling. The Spanish Cycling Federation really didn’t have many choices. Even though some media quotes suggest that certain members of the federation would have acted to protect Contador, it would have been suicidal for the federation to absolve him of any infraction.

Even if it was conclusively proven that a team of rogue ninjas mugged Contador, strapped him down and then placed a cookie jar over his hand, his hand was not allowed in the cookie jar under any circumstances. Strict liability. The rules really didn’t allow for another outcome.

American cyclist Scott Moninger mounted mounted the most rigorous defense ever presented to show that the presence of a banned substance in his body got there unintentionally. Moninger tested positive for 19-norandrosterone due to a tainted supplement. He bought up other containers of the dietary supplement and had them tested to demonstrate how the substance entered his body. He still got a one-year suspension.

By comparison, Contador has floated theories that have mostly involved tossing the whole of the Spanish beef-producing industry under the bus. It may be that he genuinely doesn’t know where the Clenbuterol came from, how it entered his body. He has, however, a problem that Moninger didn’t have. His test sample showed evidence of plasticizers that are used to keep equipment used in blood transfusions soft and pliable. Think of plasticizers as lotion for plastics.

While there is no rule specifically against plasticizers, the UCI’s ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ view of the world suggests they are unlikely to be satisfied with a single year’s suspension for el Pistolero.

The issue here is not whether Contador deserves a more significant suspension, it’s that by not handing him a more significant suspension, the Spanish Federation may have actually prolonged Contador’s agony. Should the UCI appeal his suspension, the fighting could go on longer than the current length of his suspension.

It’s hard to think that a cycling story could eclipse the current Sports Illustrated piece concerning the investigation into Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service cycling team by Jeff Novitzky, but here we are. Current Tour de France champion stripped of title and suspended for doping beats story of 10-year-old allegations into Lance Armstrong’s alleged doping.

Should the UCI accept the one-year suspension and not appeal for something longer, we are still within our right to ask about the suspension as determined. How useful is a one-year suspension?

Contador is 28. Suspended for one year, he’ll come back to compete in the Tour de France at the ripe old age of … 29. And after all, 29 is generally considered to be roughly the peak of a cyclist’s powers.

Had Contador tested positive for, say, heroin, I would have been suspicious that something odd had happened. I would be hesitant to believe that he took that drug. However, the Clenbuterol and plasticizer fit precisely within the logic of what a Grand Tour rider would take. To the degree that there’s been a rush to judgement on Contador, it’s been because the substances found in his sample fit within what we know of doping practices by those attempting to win stage races.

I’ve tried, from time to time, to suspend not disbelief, but belief. If I’m honest, I was suspicious of Contador’s success during the 2009 Tour. Certainly his performance in the final time trial at Lake Annecy strained my credulity. It couldn’t have been less believable to me even if director Michael Bay had added machine guns, car crashes and explosions.

It is because I have trouble believing that he’s only accidentally guilty that I wonder if a single year suspension is enough. Perhaps his suspension as recommended by the Spanish Federation won’t matter, even if the UCI doesn’t appeal it. It seems possible that the Amaury Sport Organization will just refuse to invite any team he’s on—in perpetuity.

And if they do that, could we blame them?

It’s easy to wonder just what’s on the mind of Pat McQuaid. I honestly don’t know how his mind works. However, I do wholly believe that Christian Prudhomme wants the Tour de France competed in and won by clean athletes. And I think part of the ASO’s issue with the UCI is that they don’t see the Aigle Cabal as doing enough to protect their interests.

Twelve months from now we may be saying, “Woe be unto thee who hires Alberto Contador.”

It may be that hiring him doesn’t ensure victory; instead it may only ensure what races you’re not doing.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. sophrosune

    Padraig, Do you know of any official recognition that plasticizers were found in Contador’s blood? I mean beyond a German journalist and L’Equipe articles? I have not heard or read any such recognition. I imagine the argument for this not be officially stated would be that the test for the plasticizers are not yet sanctioned. But I would also imagine that governing bodies like the UCI and WADA, which have no qualms about besmirching the reputations of people on much less, would at least say something to the effect that they have conducted tests that though not officially sanctioned indicate that Contador received blood transfusions which was likely how clenbuterol got into his system in such small amounts. Have you seen them say something like this?

    Ah yes, the Annency time trial canard as proof of his doping. Contador has always been an excellent time trialer. His first races won as a professional were in ITTs. Now, if that time trial had been in stage 2 of the race and Contador had beaten Cancellara I would be looking at it far more skeptically. But it was at the end a three-week stage race that included climbs in which Cancellara tried to defend a yellow jersey and pretty spectacularly cracked.

    The dismissal of the idea of contaminated meat based on the idea that clenbuterol has been banned in Europe is a bit flippant after more details have emerged on how meat is imported into Spain. It’s been made pretty clear that the practice is pretty rampant in South America. And I can tell you from personal experience that meat imported from Argentina is very common in Spain.

    I don’t know whether Contador took clenbuterol during training and withdrew blood while it was still in his system and then gave himself a blood transfusion, or whether he ate contaminated meat containing the substance. But the science we have been given doesn’t make a definitive case either way. Of course, we are all entitled to our opinions.

    The issue I think the governing bodies need to start grappling with are: Do we set a minimum level for certain substances like clenbuterol that could occur due to environmental circumstances outside of deliberate ingestion? How can they arrive at some kind of process by which doping is punished in a swifter way? Are mandatory penalties the best approach for punishing doping, and if so, why leave it to national cycling federations to decide the punishment?

    It seems clenbuterol detection is on the rise. This may in fact be because of unscrupulous cattle ranchers or it may be the new doping regimen. But being able to distinguish the difference seems to be of the highest order.

    1. Author

      Sophrosune: I’m not sure where to begin. There are two central issues to my post. The first of course is strict liability. My personal view is that Contador was given a light sentence given his weak defense. Moninger’s defense was much more rigorous. And as scenarios go, history tells me that it is far more likely that a Tour contender will dope than travel with a personal stash of beef. Occam’s Razor, and all that.

      The second is the smoke/fire suspicion. The presence of plasticizer in Contador’s sample was actionable from the standpoint of the relative recent rule that encompasses any effort to dope. They no longer need a specific rule against each substance. I’m curious why that wasn’t investigated more thoroughly.

      As to the Annecy time trial, I didn’t take his performance as proof, nor did I write that. I said I was suspicious. I still am.

      As you note, we don’t know for sure whether he ate contaminated beef or doped, but there was definitely an infraction. By my reckoning, he got off light, which strikes me as a real problem. Justice, as they say, should be blind.

      Clenbuterol, due to its exceedingly short half-life makes it an attractive drug for a cyclist who wants to lose some weight and try to avoid detection. Were that not the case, I’d support the view that there should be a threshold below which the test is considered negative. Right now, I think the only solution is for athletes to be more vigilant about their diets.

  2. seveneight

    with the amount of money spent on pro cycling – from wind tunnels to high paid engineers developing new carbon technology to scientists and medical staff and everything else – i have a hard time buying the idea that somehow they probably got some tainted meat.

    the european cattle industry’s bad habits did not just come to light by way of the contador case. why would any pro level team let their chef or nutritionalist purchase and serve their athletes meat from an allegedly contaminated source? this is a defense that just doesn’t make sense.

    is it possible it happened this way? sure. is it probable? i doubt it.

    maybe someone else knows, but i haven’t heard anything about the chef, or nutritionalist, or alleged third party “meat purchaser” being fired for negligence or being held accountable in any way.

  3. Burns

    Surely there is a way to determine an acceptible amount of clenbuterol contamination.

    Take 10 supjects that are known to be clean. Slaughter contaminated bovine. Feed meat to subjects for a month. Test them each day to determine blood contamination and establish the level necessary for a “positive”.

    I just don’t believe there is that much cross contamination going on. If there were, we would see more riders showing “positives” for clenbuterol.

    Go to a blood bank and test 100 or 1000 bags of blood for clenbuterol, that could give you a population normal level.

    This is not rocket science.

  4. mtbchick

    perhaps Contador remembered Paola Pezzo’s tainted steak excuse success. as someone who once had to succumb to out of comp. testing, I suggest any athlete today who has not done due diligence on the supplements (or anything else for that matter) entering their body is wholly responsible.

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  6. Touriste-Routier

    I am not surprised that Contador only received 1 year; the Spanish have been known to be lenient with their sentencing and enforcement. The problem in cycling is that rather than the UCI issuing suspensions, the national federations must. This gives another opportunity to appeal, slowing down the whole circus.

    To cite that clenbuterol is banned in Europe, therefore it can’t be in beef is naïve. Just like doping is illegal in cycling, and steroids are illegal in weightlifting, they still occur. Crooks & cheats don’t follow laws. There are probably plenty of ranchers who use the substance, both in domestic Spanish production and in imports. You can’t expect a chef to do a chemical analysis of every meal prior to it being served, and due to complex distribution systems, even a butcher may not know with certainty which ranch their meat comes from.

    As far as plasticizers go, we only have circumstantial evidence, because the test hasn’t been validated, and that he could have received a legal transfusion of blood or saline,etc. at some point. But as said, the UCI & WADA follow the “if there is smoke there is fire” system of jurisprudence, it all adds up to reasonable cause.

    I have no opinion on whether he did or didn’t, but I think his team has created reasonable doubt. Under the zero tolerance and self responsibility rules of WADA, it was impossible to get off free.

  7. vitelloni

    I remember watching Contador in the 2010 season leading up to the TdF, and noticing chinks in his armor, not seeming as strong and confidant as the year before. Without being able to site specific races that caught my eye, and other personal tics that may have belied AC’s insecurity about his form for the TdF, did anyone else have similar feelings at the time?
    If you will pardon my speculation, maybe the level of superstardom he had achieved and all its obligations and stresses had left Contador lacking his top form and feeling that he needed to dope in order to keep the train on the tracks.

  8. randomactsofcycling

    Wow, el Pistolero and smoke and fire. There’s a pun in there somewhere but it can’t be as laughable as a contaminated meat story. I’m sorry, but it’s so simplistic as to be laughable and that’s without the (unofficial) ‘evidence’ of plasticizers (which with a simple Google search, tells me have been detectable for a long, long time….why hasn’t common sense prevailed and a test been validated for this eons ago?). Perhaps the Iberian Peninsula lacks the most stringent of Food Import controls, but the ‘other’ import – bringing it from Spain to France during the Tour de France – is the bit that has me shaking my head. What’s the chances of getting contaminated meat on THAT ONE DAY? Clenbuterol may have a short half-life in humans, but given that it has already been through a Cow’s circulatory system, how even a trace amount remains after it has been slaughtered, sliced and diced, transported twice (once to the Butcher, once to France)….
    The suspension is neither here nor there: even two years for a first offence sees a guilty party of Contador’s age coming back at 30, refreshed and ready for another 5 years.
    What galls me the most about all of this is way in which the ‘story’ broke in the first place. Why did it take pressure from a German publication for the UCI to make the announcement? Why does Contador get so much time to prepare a defence when others are hung out to dry? (why does Contador get so much time and can only come up with contaminated meat?)
    Does anyone test the UCI? There are some dopes in there, no doubt.
    The punishment is token. It sends no message other than ‘we follow the rules because we have to’. This from the same people that were so pro-active about Valverde…..

    1. Author

      Concerning the fact that Contador only received a one-year ban: I know some riders have received one-year bans recently. The moral relativism that led to those decisions escapes me. I really don’t understand it. You are either guilty or not. That’s the purpose behind a strict liability standard. David Garcia just got two years for his EPO positive at the Vuelta. If punishment is being meted out based on moral relativity, shouldn’t Contador’s positive derive a more stringent punishment because his doping resulted in a Tour de France win? Don’t answer. I’m not here to discuss the merits of a slack standard.

      Everything about this case smells like the UCI wanted more to avoid the black eye that would come with a positive by the winner of the Tour de France, than to properly adjudicate a doping infraction. The sport deserves better.

  9. Hank

    Contador’s story was entirely possible bot not all that plausible considering he couldn’t come up with any corroboration at all. There was a very big Clen bust involving Spanish beef ranchers a few months ago so despite strict regulations abuses occur. Considering the millions of Euros at stake… how much would Contador make for himself and his employers in 2011 and how much was his yellow in 2010 worth? You’d think he would have put an army of detectives and scientists on the trail of his tainted beef. With the Euro zones controls he had some chance of finding the source or perhaps some tainted beef in the local supply chain. There also is evidently a Clen test of hair samples that could have provided corroboration to his story. I didn’t hear him taking advantage of that. It seems he had a story that could have been true but made no effort to prove it was. Another of Bruyneel’s athletes who get’s busted as soon as they leave his care.

    Putting aside Contador’s case, I think the issue of zero tolerance for what you ingest unintentionally puts an unfair burden on athletes. It’s impossible for them to get every substance that goes into their bodies tested. Athletes who were clearly innocent of doping have received 1 year bans.

  10. sophrosune

    Padraig, I don’t understand your use of the term moral relativism. It seems that the one-year sentences represent a judgment on how a punishment should fit the crime, or lack thereof. Eliminating any judgment in these cases removes any moral judgment. As I understand moral relativism, it means retreating from making moral judgments because morality can change according to different cultural sensitivities. Zero tolerance and prescribed punishments that remove that judgment end up in atrocities like the Rockefeller laws in which some kid with a sheet of LSD at a Dead concert does 25 years at a maximum security prison, or someone who thought they were using a legal vitamin and instead gets some doping product in it still has to get a year or more sanctions.

    1. Author

      No doubt, objectively written rules have resulted in atrocities. However, that doesn’t make objective standards worthless. There’s another use of moral relativity that refers to intent and context when things go wrong. It’s why nearly every legal system differentiates between murder and manslaughter. We shouldn’t allow a cyclist to receive a reduced suspension simply because they claim the appearance of whatever was found in a sample was an accident.

      My point regarding moral relativity is that it is unacceptable to reduce his suspension because A) his defense, even if true, wasn’t particularly rigorous and really didn’t prove anything and B) Part of the Spanish Federation’s logic behind recommending a one year suspension (because two years would result in an expensive fine) is the same that Eagle County Colorado District Attorney Mark Hurlbert used when he said a felony conviction for Martin Erzinger could have significant ramifications on his job. (Erzinger ran over a cyclist and left the scene of the accident, then claimed sleep apnea made him unaware of the accident.)

      The idea that we should go easy on someone because the punishment would be severe or impact future employment prospects is utterly unacceptable. Had Contador proven, conclusively, that he had eaten tainted meat by finding a steak also contaminated with Clen from the producer in question, I’d be all for a reduced suspension. For now, his claim is worth the contents of my son’s diaper. They’re just words. And the things I can do with words….

      Finally, if we are going to apply a moral relativity to Contador’s positive, should we not weigh his infraction of the rules more heavily because the race was the Tour de France, not some industrial park crit?

  11. jonathan

    here’s my question… what does Riis do now? In almost all recent doping cases, the team has immediately sacked the riders in question and sever all ties. But can Riis afford to do that? What are his team rules around this – even though AC wasn’t on his team at the time?

  12. sophrosune

    Padraig, I am not certain that we know or have been given full access to Contador’s defense. For my part, saying what it may or may not contain would be speculation. So, without the science that it seems Contador presented to the Spanish federation in his defense, and which the federation asked the UCI and WADA for their expertise on, I suppose it would indeed be just his words.

    I have read that a hair test, especially with dark hair, can help narrow the origin of the clenbuterol. It’s not been stated one way or the other whether Contador submitted himself to this test.

    While I have heard comments from the Spanish Federation acknowledging that a two-year ban would have impacted his salary, I haven’t read where they said that this was the basis of their judgment for a one-year ban. But if they received evidence in part of Contador’s defense that made them legitimately believe the “probability” that his positive was unintentional than seeking a lesser punishment seems to be trying to balance the scales of justice in which the scale of punishment had been weighted heavily to one side.

  13. Hank

    I’d agree with sophrosune that right now it’s all speculation without access to the facts.

    DId they have evidence that he might be innocent but felt obligated to punish him anyway? Where they just looking for a way to give him a pass because of his stature despite the fact that he obviously doped?

  14. michael

    “Zero tolerance and prescribed punishments that remove that judgment end up in atrocities like the Rockefeller laws in which some kid with a sheet of LSD at a Dead concert does 25 years at a maximum security prison, or someone who thought they were using a legal vitamin and instead gets some doping product in it still has to get a year or more sanctions.”

    You just jumped the shark dude.

    We can have philosophic debates about the merits of the WADA code, but from a practical point of view this is really black and white. The rules, as currently written, are very clear – you do the crime, you do the time.

    There is really nothing to debate here, other than the lack of consistent sentences being handed down by various national federations. In my view we should remove national governing bodies from the doping investigation/sentencing game, as well as the International Federation who clearly cannot get their shit together.

    WADA and WADA alone should be charged with this business in the interests of central, uniform and just application of all rules. The debate regarding mandatory sentences/lengths and the history of precedents set should reside in once place alone. There are too many middle men slowing down the process and making a mockery of sport (this applies to other sports federations as well. I am looking at you, USA Track and Field amongst others).

    To comment on the FIFA example used in another article, as a long time football coach let me tell you that holding FIFA up as an example of an international sports federation that has it’s shit together is like saying Sarah Palin has a firm grasp of foreign policy.

    International football has more skeletons in it’s closet than cycling does. Trust me when I say that Platini, Blatter et al. are losing sleep over this fact each and every time cycling self-imolates and journo’s cover it.

  15. sophrosune

    @Michael It would seem that the issue is not as black and white as you contend because different penalites are being handed down all the time from different national federations (not just Spain).

    This brings me back to what I saw as the issues that arise from the Contador case, and on these I think we agree:

    Do we set a minimum level for certain substances like clenbuterol that could occur due to environmental circumstances outside of deliberate ingestion?
    How can they arrive at some kind of process by which doping is punished in a swifter way?
    Are mandatory penalties the best approach for punishing doping, and if so, why leave it to national cycling federations to decide the punishment?

    WADA is not in fact the final arbiter in this, and to the extent that they do have power of judgment or the power for meting out punishment it is only because others have given them that authority. WADA is far from infallible as having Dick Pound as their president in the past clearly indicates.

    Rules, regulations, laws and punishments are all products of us. We can improve them or make them worse or let them remain static as though in some vacuum of presumed perfection. I, for one, opt for always examining how justice is best served rather than expecting the automatic judgment to do it for me.

    BTW: Being aligned with Fonzie even remotely is fun.

    1. Author

      Unfortunately, I’m way pressed on availability and so can’t write as much as I’d like.

      A code regarding punishment was written. My understanding at the time was that it was recorded in granite. Agreed, varying punishments are being handed out, but I think there should be more standardization and one year is unacceptably short with the possible exception of non-analytic issues, ones that are strictly administrative in nature.

      Setting minimum acceptable levels for substances like Clenbuterol opens the door to deliberate microdosing, so I don’t support it, nor do I think cycling fans should find it acceptable.

      Last: Regarding Contador’s defense, I have it from a source in Europe that one thing he did NOT do is present a steak from the supplier in question. It seems that should have been the cornerstone of his defense. To me, the guy is saying “my dog ate my homework,” but has yet to demonstrate he owns a dog. Insufficient.

  16. sophrosune

    Padraig, I want you to imagine for an instant that this is not Alberto Contador, but a relative, say a cousin, or a nephew, or even a son who is not only being accused of a crime but tried for it without being able to give their side, or worse having their defense provided for them. How would you feel to have them accussed with this kind of innuendo and second-hand “I heard” stories?

    Like I said, I don’t want to say the guy is innocent anymore than I think it’s necessary to call his defense flimsy or laughable when we hardly know what it is.

    My memory is vague on this, but I seem to recall reading something to the effect that it was never going to be possible to isolate a cut of beef and find the cattle that it came from or even the rancher that raised them. It is widely accepted, however, that clenbuterol is used in raising cattle in different parts of world and that that clenbuterol can stay in the meat of the slaughtered animals.

    We don’t know the details of his defense but I am pretty certain that it probably contains some pretty convincing data on how this clenbuterol in tainted meat can be transferred to humans through eating it.

    It’s not that far fetched. It’s not laughable. As long as it is the product of good science, it’s scientific evidence for this possibiity.

    As far as the rules being written in granite, metaphorically speaking you are right as these rules seem so outdates as to be from the Stone Age and I would add that the granite is crumbling.

    1. Author

      Sophrosune: I can and do empathize. It may seem like I rail against it like a child who doesn’t want to take a nap, but I appreciate better than most how Contador’s suspension screws up the lives of a great many people. Contador had an unusual opportunity to present his defense; it began before the news broke. It’s an occasion no other cyclist has ever been presented to my knowledge. It’s really not possible to suggest that the UCI has treated Contador unfairly. His defense got a one-month head-start on the defense itself and on spin before the world was informed of the positive. By any objective measure, that is favoritism, not prejudice.

      You can try to characterize what I wrote as just “second-hand ‘I heard'”, but anonymous sources are a long-standing part of journalism. I stand by what I’ve learned. I believe how Moninger handled his case is a textbook example of how a defense should be mounted.

      We’ll have to disagree about what’s laughable or not. I don’t dispute the science that explains how Clenbuterol could cause a cyclist to test positive; what I have a problem with is that Contador couldn’t come up with a similar sample even when given ample time to mount a defense off the clock. Put differently, that it can happen isn’t the issue. He just hasn’t come close to proving it happened to him, and that’s really the crux of an adequate defense.

      I respect you’d like to twist my words into something other than I wrote, but my meaning was clear enough: The rules, as written, were objective, as were the standards for the suspensions. Any erosion of that toward leniency is bad for the sport and I really don’t know how anyone can purport to love clean sport and support lenient suspensions.

  17. Robot

    @michael – You are right that FIFA is no example to follow. I was only trying to point out that FIFA makes decisions, while the UCI does not.

    Also, as to the Contador case, I agree with both Sophrosune and Padraig. What? Yes. It’s true. Contador may or may not have eaten tainted beef. I have no knowledge that helps me make a qualitative decision about the possibility.

    But. The anti-doping code doesn’t really care where the Clenbuterol came from. Should it? Maybe. But that’s not the plane we live on.

    For those reasons, I think Contador, by the rules, should get two years, but then so should the others who have tested positive.

    But more on that in the forthcoming Group Ride.

  18. Alex

    To me, Alberto is history already. Sadly, I surprised myself looking for Andy, unconsciously wondering about the day when he will get caught too. As skinny as they come, he may not look the type who needs clen. But he already looks guilty and fragile to me, with all that “Contador won it on the road” crap of his. In other words, he looks to me now like the Contador of 2009.

  19. todd k

    +1 with Robot.
    The problem with having different federations selectively enforcing or selectively modifying the code or rules is that it ultimately undermines the entirety of the rules and codes that attempt to govern an international sport. This is arguably more harmful to each individual collectively engaging in the sport because they are not guaranteed equal treatment. Changing rules on the fly leaves the riders in the peloton vulnerable to the whims of politics, favoritism, cultural differences and/or financial ramifications that vary federation to federation and rider to rider. Rules sometimes create catch-22 situations for the individual. Sometimes there will be instances in which a rule is unfair to an individual rider but nonetheless must be enforced because it is more unfair to all of the individuals in the peloton were the rules not enforced consistently.

    To use a hopefully absurd case, let’s say a rider was unknowingly sedated, and then provided a blood transfusion and dominated a race shortly thereafter. We could argue that it would not be fair to the rider in that instance to be disqualified. After all, they didn’t know they were subjected to a transfusion and they didn’t knowingly intend to have an unfair advantage as called out and defined in the rules that govern the sport. Put simply, they didn’t willingly cheat which is the intent behind the rules. On the other hand it is more unfair to the entire peloton to let that rider retain his victory because that rider clearly had an unfair advantage that the rules clearly stipulate invalidates his performance. In the end the best decision is to disqualify that rider even though they are in an “unfair” position.

    my opinion though. Keep in mind I was up for a good chunk of last night with a kid who didn’t want to sleep. I may be a bit goofy in the head at this point.

  20. JZ

    AC is crazy. He has the perfect case for just accepting the one-year ban, re-assert that it was tainted beef, enjoy a little time off (work on your finger-bang) and gear up for racing late summer. Of course there is always the chance that the UCI will appeal the one year suspension and if that is the case then fight to show it was most likely accidental and a two year suspension is uncalled for. Now, the appeals will drag on through the first half of the season any way and we will continue to have to read about it every day.

    Come on Contador, Clen was found in your blood, end of story, take your sanction like a man.

  21. Hank


    the reason 100’s of athletes in Europe are protesting the zero tolerance policy is because if you ingest some banned substance unintentionally it has NO performance enhancing value. If the Clen really did come from tainted meat the infinitesimal levels found would have done zero for performance. The problem is determining whether the trace is there because of previous performance doping or from some recent unintentional ingestion.

  22. todd k

    Hank: It is true that many folks are indicating that this rule is unfair to the athelete and that there was no competitive advantage gained by its presence in this instance. I concurr that a strong argument can be made that it may be an entirely unfair rule under which any given athelete cannot insure that he may unknowingly ingest minute quantities of this substance. That lends strong support that perhaps with this substance, the rule in question ought to be changed to have a tolerance level assigned to it so as to insure some level of protection to the athelete. Nonetheless, it is the rule they have in place and the rule under which the cyclist raced at will. I would also go one step further and say that the cyclists should collectively or individually have an avenue in which they should be able to seek or encourage changes to adjust those rules.

    But when it comes to enforcing the rules as they are written, my opinion is that the rule should be enforced as it is written. Changing or selectively applying a given rule after the fact also undermines the cyclist by throwing all rules into question.

    1. Author

      Todd K and Hank: Remember, Clenbuterol has an exceedingly short half-life. It’s hard to know how much was in his system because we don’t know when it entered his system. Imagine pouring a glass of wine and leaving it out for a week. If you took a sip (test) at the end of a week, it would be vinegar and taste pretty awful. To assume that it has always tasted awful would be erroneous. The prevailing theory—though certainly not proven—is that the Clen was used during a training cycle when the blood was extracted during the spring for later transfusion during the Tour. The presence of plasticizers in his sample is circumstantial but supports this theory.

  23. sophrosune

    Padraig, Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comments. I really don’t want to twist your words. I really just want you to see this from a different perspective than you related in your post.

    I am getting a little ashamed of myself for carrying on with this as much as I have. But I would like to ask very respectfully a hypothetical question: What if it could be proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that one person who had tested positive for clenbuterol had ingested it from meat that he had eaten and the another person it could be proven absolutely that he had taken it deliberately to lose weight and increase his muscle mass, should both be punished the same?

    On the one hand, you seem to argue that a case can be made that lessens the crime and the punishment, and on the other you argue that the rules are the rules and the punishments are the punishments and can’t be altered. I am not clear how I can reconcile those two positions without feeling as though I am contradicting myself.

    1. Author

      Sophrosune: You’re a devoted reader and one of our most passionate and thoughtful commenters. If I did anything to discourage that, I’d deserve zero readership.

      You ask a great question … one I’ll answer with a fresh post.

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