Contador and Doping: Rationalization or Reality?

Contador in London 2007

Better days surely. Contador at the 2007 Tour de France presentation in London.

I don’t think Alberto Contador knowingly ingested clenbuterol. I don’t have any proof of this, it’s just my opinion. Then again, the doping authorities don’t seem to know how the microscopic amounts of this substance got into his system either. They’ve decided to label him as a doper and strip him of a whole slew of titles he won even without proof of ANY illegal substance being in his system.

Folks, I’m going to make my opinions on this as quick and concise as I can because I really don’t want to spend another cycling season discussing the performance enhancing qualities of pharmaceuticals when I’d rather be talking about racing. Here’s how the whole El Pistolero situation sits with me:

1. I do believe that Alberto Contador should be sanctioned for having Clenbuterol in his system. Why would I say this if I think he’s innocent of knowingly ingesting it? Simple. It’s the rules. I hate the rules. I think the rules are stupid and unfair. I think the rules are set up to provide the doping authorities with the opportunity to make arbitrary judgments on riders guilt or innocence under the auspices of “science.” But the fact is that the rules state that if these substances are found in an athletes/cyclists body, they will be found guilty of a doping offense and sanctioned. Clenbuterol was found in his system. Technically he is guilty (under the rules) and he is supposed to be sanctioned. It doesn’t matter the amount or the circumstances. That absolutely sucks. I don’t know how a rider is supposed to defend himself against something like this. But it is the rules they agree to.

2. I blame Contador for this but I don’t. Huh? Operating under the assumption that this was accidental, I blame Contador for eating the meat in the first place. As a rider you have to be SO careful what you put in your body at every turn. The rules force you to live a very regimented life. You simply cannot take chances with anything. Meat from an unknown source is a highly risky food to eat for a cyclist. That being said, how can they possibly keep track of where every type of food comes from? Shouldn’t they be able to trust their handlers who provide them with the food? If you can’t trust them, then who? Contador can’t spend all his time being a nutrionist, chemist, chef, etc… Sooner or later he has to trust that those providing him with the food are making the right choices.

3. The amount of clenbuterol in his system was so microscopic that there is a great deal of question as to how effective this would be to a cyclist if they were taking it as a performance enhancer. Again, I don’t know the science of how much is needed to enhance the performance, how long it needs to stay in the system, how you detect the way it entered the system. What I do know is that there is a LOT of debate about the effectiveness of the amount detected. Since this is the only amount ever detected in him and its so miniscule, you have to wonder why this wouldn’t just trigger a warning to the authorities to just track the rider to see if this keeps showing up. At no other time before or after this particular instance was the substance detected in the rider.

4. The plasticizer. WADA made claims that the clenbuterol was deliberately administered into Contador’s system because they have a new test that can detect plasticizers in the system. As I understand it, this would be something akin to IV bags where blood or other substances passed through thus giving a better indication of how the substance got into the system. On the surface this sounds like a better way of proving the results of the test. But as I stated in an earlier post, I think that the current science is faulty and suspect. And I’m not sure I’m ready to believe that they found what they say they found in this particular case.

5. The sanctions handed down to Contador are also correct but totally unfair in my opinion. Again, the rules are the rules and everyone has “technically” agreed to them. What other choice do riders have? But should a rider lose EVERY title since the race of the doping offense even when he did not have another positive test for over a year and half? If you intend on stripping him of those titles, why let him race in the first place? If you’re letting him race because you don’t want to artificially suspend him while you waste a year and half trying to determine his innocence or guilt, why not speed up the process? It just seems entirely unfair to let a rider ride all these races (and win) and then come back and say we’re going to take all those races away even though we have no evidence of any issues during those races. Suspend him or let him keep the other titles.

Sadly I don’t think there are any good answers that come from this. We need the doping authorities to help us make this a cleaner sport. And riders should be given the benefit of the doubt by considering them innocent until PROVEN guilty…beyond a shadow of a doubt. While the authorities can parade around saying they’ve caught another cheat, I can’t help but think they’ve just ruined another athlete’s career/life over a technicality.

Here’s hoping that Contador returns to racing (and winning) in August. We just want to watch/read about the cycling.

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