“The body or the face?” the loan shark’s muscle asks, a droll query from a guy with a square jaw and a fist like a cinder block. The clear implication is that, no matter the choice, it’s gonna hurt. A good outcome is no longer an option.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the place sports’ governing bodies go to when they’ve failed to govern effectively, might as well be giving pro cycling a choice between the body or the face right now. With a verdict coming in the appeal of Alberto Contador’s non-sanction for Clenbuterol doping, it’s important to recognize that, no matter the outcome, cycling’s gonna take a haymaker.
The 30 second version of the story is this: Alberto Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France. The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) opted not to suspend him. The UCI and WADA appealed that decision to CAS based on the WADA code of strict liability, i.e. that the athlete is 100% responsible for what goes into his or her body. Simply stated, if there’s dope, they doped.
Let’s not go any deeper into this case and it’s details than that. The details and the extremely long timeline of events only serve to obscure the underlying truths here. (If you need to play catch up, Padraig has written about the case extensively here, here and here.)
CAS is going to do one of two things. They’re going to uphold RFEC’s non-sanction of the rider, or they’re going to impose the standard two-year suspension that every other rider who’s tested positive has received. The body or the face.
If CAS decides that strict liability doesn’t pertain to Contador’s case, then a long list of suspended riders are going to have a serious grievance against the UCI. Think of Tom Zirbel or Fuyu Li, for example. Neither of those riders ingested a substance that anyone would argue helped them to win races, but they both served their suspensions. Strict liability, morally nettlesome as it may be, has been the law, so the possibility of CAS somehow striking it from the books, at least from a judicial point of view, will be bad for pro cycling. If an “I didn’t mean for it to be in my body” defense is allowed to stand, it then becomes open season, not just for Clenbuterol positives, but for any adverse analytical finding that might be attributed to contamination.
If, on the other hand, CAS follows precedent and suspends Contador, then we’ll have to vacate the results of two Grand Tours, the 2010 Tour and the 2011 Giro, not to mention a whole host of individual stages and smaller, albeit not-insignificant, races. There will be history books to correct, riders to promote, prize money to redistribute, legends to be recast. Because of the stature of the rider, the damage to the sport will be massive, complicated and long-term. The sport’s reputation, which already sucks, will get worse. Sponsorships will be affected. People not named Contador will lose money and opportunities.
There is a third way, I suppose. The CAS could take a hybrid approach, crafting a sanction for Contador that takes into account the minute amount of Clenbuterol that appeared in his system, but still pays some respect to the strict liability rule. Quite what that would be is hard to imagine, and if not a full blow to head or gut, still a stinger for a sport already on the ropes.
In fact, news out of Paris this week suggests that the CAS is not confining itself to issues of strict liability, that a partial examination of Contador’s tainted beef excuse IS being aired, and that the levels of Clenbuterol, minute by all accounts, are playing in front of the tribunal. If the CAS only concerns itself with the amount of the substance and its net effect, rather than possible reasons for its presence, we are likely headed for acquittal and all the fallout such a verdict will cause.
After all, these are the issues that have been examined ad absurdem by the UCI, WADA and RFEC over the last two years. “Did he dope?” is a different question than, “Did the doping help him win?” None of the answers are good ones.
The Contador case, as most in modern professional cycling, has gone on and on and on. The temptation to see the CAS verdict as a resolution is strong, but given the possible outcomes on the table, we should expect this mess to continue on for years to come. Shortly, we should know what the consequences are for Contador. The body or the face. But pro cycling is a long way from paying its debt to this particular loan shark.
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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
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
Forgive my candor, but I write today about my pee.
You see, like our canine and feline friends, after every pee, and poop for that matter, I inspect the contents of my toilet bowl. Mind, you I don’t stick my head all the way in there to put my nose right up to it, but I do give a good look and take in its aroma. I do this for this same reason dogs, cats, and I should imagine other mammals do, chiefly, as a gauge of my health. Bodily excrement says a lot about the state the state of one’s health, and from the yellow and brown stuff, I can get a good idea about if I am well hydrated and have sufficient fiber in my diet, among other things.
Then, the other day, something odd happened. My pee didn’t smell they way it should. I knew instantly that something was off, but what? I stood above the bowl with furrowed brow, and exhorted all the powers of my olfactory. Like a sommelier detecting the flavor profile of a Pinot Noir, I inhaled attempting to distill what had tainted my pristine pee.
I was flummoxed.
My first thoughts went to asparagus, which always adds it own particular bouquet. However, I counted back to realize that I had not eaten any for four days, so it couldn’t be that. I went to bed with the mystery unsolved.
The following morning, upon returning to the loo, I duly peed, and again my nose was accosted by this offending aroma. Determined, I took a deep whiff, and processed it through the data bank in my head. The olfactory nerve is closely tied to the amygdala and the hippocampus parts of the brain where much of our long term memory is stored. My pee had smelled like this before, but when, and for what reason.
Some hours later, it hit my like a ton of bricks. My pee smelled like it would if I had taken a dose of antibiotics.
How could it be? I had not taken any antibiotics, nor medication of any kind for nearly three years, but I distinctly recalled the smell of my pee during a round of penicillin to clear up an infection before having some teeth ripped out.
I soon realized when and where I had been unintentionally doped.
I don’t eat out often, or at least not as often as many people I know, and when I do, I make every reasonable effort to eat healthy, wholesome food. At home, all meats and produce are strictly organic, or at least all-natural. (For those who don’t know the difference, foods can only claim to be organic if every step in the chain is certified organic, whereas natural means that the primary food product has been raised or grown without the aid of pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones, etc, but the soil or food from which it was nourished may not have been without these additives.) Which leads me to my lunch out.
It happened at a popular and otherwise pretty good ( 3 out of 5 stars on yelp.com ) restaurant in Santa Monica, California. I ordered a turkey / avocado club sandwich on toasted sourdough and a pale ale to drink. I was proud of myself for abstaining on the french fries. Aside from that, other than water, organic oatmeal, fruit and some leftover, homemade spaghetti and meatballs made with all natural ingredients, I ate nothing else during the day in question.
So how convinced am I that I had been unintentionally doped with a healthy dose of antibiotic courtesy of the turkey who gave his life for my lunch? Well, I have no scientific data to back it up. I did some research to try and discern how prevalent the use of antibiotics is in poultry production and was unable to find a specific number; however, the FDA recently published guidelines to ween farmers off of the use of antibiotics on their livestock. The FDA is motivated by the fact that the population as a whole evidenced developing an immunity to antibiotics through food consumption, the results of which could pose an unintended health risk in the form of higher infection rates and the inability to treat them in the acute phase. I also learned that 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used in the non-theraputic treatment of livestock. I take it, then, that my hypothesis, while unproven, is highly probable. It made me wonder what else I have eaten without my knowledge, despite being more careful than the average bear.
While this has nothing to do directly with Alberto Contador, Li Fuyu or any other riders who claim to have been unintentionally doped by innocently consuming a food or supplement, it does serve as reminder of what we non-professional athletes seemingly take for granted every time we eat or drink. It highlights how so many years of hard work, suffering and sacrifice can be wasted by just one bite of something tainted. Imagine the next time you go out for dinner, you arrive to work the following morning to find a Controlle Dopage awaits you at your desk. Though you have done nothing intentionally wrong, you could be fired from your job and your reputation publicly, and forever, sullied because of a turkey / avocado club.
For me at least, it was a sobering experience.
By the way, I consulted WADA’s 2010 list of banned substances and antibiotics are not on them.
The Internet told me that, “Gray is a neutral, balanced color. It is a cool, conservative color that seldom evokes strong emotion although it can be seen as a cloudy or moody color.”
When the news broke that Alberto Contador had tested positive for Clenbuterol on the second rest day of the 2010 Tour de France, I made a promise to myself that I would withhold judgment as best I could, that I would remain agnostic until the news stopped breaking and started coming back together. Keeping this promise has been more challenging than I anticipated, for with every new development in the story, I have been tempted to pronounce a verdict, at least within the cacophonous courtroom of my own head.
The Internet says, “The lighter side of black, gray is a cool color seen in storm clouds and some metals.” Storm clouds, indeed.
The truth is that I am too impressionable. I want to believe everyone. When German media outlet ARD reported that plasticizers were detected in Contador’s urine, along with the Clenbuterol, I thought, “Well, that’s the final nail.” But then Contador came out with the offer to make all his previous tests available now and in the future, for when more advanced testing has been approved. That’s not the sort of thing you say if you’ve got something to hide.
Of course when Sylvain Chavanel and another French rider came out firmly on the side of “not surprised,” I took that as some indication that Contador’s strategies are an open secret in the peloton. That is, until David Millar took up the opposite position.
The Internet says, “Like black, gray is used as a color of mourning as well as a color of formality. Along with blue suits, gray suits are part of the uniform of the corporate world. Dark, charcoal gray carries with it some of the strength and mystery of black. It is a sophisticated color without much of the negative attributes of black.”
Then the report came that Clenbuterol has been banned in Spanish cattle production for some years and that its incidence in current samples is ridiculously low, so that created the impression that Contador’s story was as plausible as Tyler Hamilton’s legendary unborn twin defense.
Then Spanish police uncovered a cattle doping ring operating out of Tenerife and the Canary Islands that made Contador’s story believable again.
The Internet says, “Gray is the color of sorrow. People who favor gray can be the lone wolf type or narrow-minded. Gray with more silver in it can be a very active color. Native Americans associate gray with friendship. Gray is the symbol for security, maturity and dependability. It connotes responsibility and conservative practicality.”
This business with Contador is not black and white. Gray is a variation on the theme of “Negative Capability” we discussed last week. Gray is Contador, the lone gray wolf. Gray is the patience we need to wait for his case to be resolved properly. Gray is the horizon for the Tour de France, regardless of the outcome. Gray is the sorrow we feel for our beleaguered sport. Gray is the steel we will need to overcome and rebuild.
The Internet says, “Gray is the true neutral color. Its energy imparts void, emptiness, lack of movement, emotion, warmth and identifying characteristics. Because of this, gray can be restful. It has a detached and isolated feeling.”
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
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.