Another positive test, another protestation of innocence, another explanation. This time it was the beef. The drugs were in the beef.

Alberto Contador and his advisers have had a month to come up with that. They have had a month to hire some lawyers and investigators to track the meat back to the suppliers, do some tests and present to the world some evidence to support the claims.

Because if you are going to state, as the experts putting the case for Contador have done, that this “is a clear case of food contamination” then you need to provide something to add weight to that argument.

But perhaps Contador wasn’t expecting to have to say anything at all. Perhaps he thought it was all going to go away.

The sample was taken on July 21, the second rest day of the Tour de France, the day before the big stage to the Col du Tourmalet. Small traces of clenbuterol were detected. Tests on the B sample backed up the first test. Contador says he was told on August 24 he had tested positive but was asked by the UCI not to say anything.

Another month passed and nothing had been made public. The UCI said that as soon as the B sample confirmed the A sample, Contador was provisionally suspended. Yet there was no announcement by the UCI until September 29. The Chinese rider Li Fuyu of the Radioshack team tested positive for the same drug after a sample was collected on March 24. By April 22 he had been provisionally suspended by the UCI. Why did it take a month longer to make a statement concerning Contador?

Information about Contador’s positive test had been leaked to a German television station and reporters had been asking questions. The UCI denied Contador had tested positive but it appears that pressure from the media prompted the announcement.

Details have been patchy and contradictory. In the initial UCI statement, it was suggested that the level of clenbuterol in Contador’s system was 50 picograms “which is 400 times less than what anti-doping laboratories accredited by WADA must be able to detect”.

This was erroneous. It was 40 times below the threshold at which WADA-accredited labs must be able to detect clenbuterol, not 400 times. It just so happened that Contador’s sample was tested at a laboratory in Cologne, Germany, with equipment sensitive enough to detect the drug at levels much lower than WADA requires as a minimum standard.

The woolly wording caused confusion too, with many people assuming that it meant the levels of the drug in Contador’s system were way below that required to announce a positive test.

That was not the case. Clenbuterol is not permitted in any quantity. It is not something that occurs naturally in the body so there is no threshold, as there is with testosterone, for example. Whether it’s a little or a lot, it’s a positive test.

And under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s rules of strict liability, an athlete is responsible for the substances in his or her body. If it got there because of contaminated food or other supplements there may be a case to plead for a reduced ban, as the swimmer Jessica Hardy did. She tested positive for clenbuterol and managed to demonstrate she had taken a legal supplement that had been tainted. Her two-year ban was cut in half.

Clenbuterol is not a new drug. It’s been around for 30 years. Experts say the level of the drug found in Contador’s system suggests it would have had no performance-enhancing effect. But as a drug that improves breathing, increases oxygen transportation and helps the body to burn fat more quickly, it is just the sort of thing athletes seeking an edge would find beneficial.

Contador says he asked a friend to bring some beef from Spain and that he ate the meat for dinner. Alexandre Vinokourov, who was also dope tested and was negative for clenbuterol, did not eat the beef, Contador claims.

The Spanish meat industry is not happy with Contador’s claims, issuing a statement that said: “It is a clear case of a gratuitous attack on Spanish beef producers without any basis.” Clenbuterol injections have been used to increase meat yield in cattle but the practice was banned a number of years ago by the EU.

And the meat excuse took on even greater importance when the French newspaper L’Equipe reported allegations that traces of a plastic residue the same as the type used to manufacture blood bags were detected in Contador’s sample taken on July 20. This hints at the possibility of Contador having a banned blood transfusion using his own blood.

That may also explain the low levels of clenbuterol the following day. The theory, which Contador denies strongly, is that he used blood extracted earlier in the year after a training block during which he used clenbuterol. The screening equipment he had at his disposal was not sensitive enough to pick up the traces of the drug.

The test to detect traces of plastic has been around for a year or so but it has not yet been validated for use. The New York Times has reported that the levels were abnormally high. Even though the test has not been ratified, it may contribute to the case the anti-doping officials are seeking to build.

The problem for cycling is that those who follow the sport are becoming tired of the UCI’s Keystone Cops administration of the sport. And those with a broader interest in sport will have seen the headlines: “Tour de France champion tests positive for drugs” and would have barely raised an eyebrow.

In fact, the over-riding reaction is one of mockery and scorn at Contador’s explanation which sounds like it was plucked from the manual of excuses where it lies next to “the dog ate my homework”.

Contador can plead his innocence and fear for his credibility. He appeals for the benefit of the doubt but what has he done to earn it? This isn’t his first brush with doping controversy. It has not been proved one way or the other whether the initials AC in Dr Eufemiano Fuentes’s documents refers to him or not. But Contador was riding for Liberty Seguros in 2006, the team run by Manolo Saiz, the man at the centre of the blood doping scandal with Fuentes. Contador said it was an unfortunate coincidence.

I prefer to think of an occasion when Contador was given a clear opportunity to speak up for clean cycling, to banish all the doubts once and for all.

We were sitting in the press room a few kilometres from Mont Ventoux on Saturday, July 25, 2009. Contador was wearing the yellow jersey. With one day to go, he had his second Tour de France title secured. It had been an impressive performance despite incredible tension inside his Astana team.

My colleague Edward Pickering asked an unequivocal question that demanded an unequivocal answer.

“Can you assure us that you’ve never taken any banned performance-enhancing products, nor used any banned methods, and can you take this opportunity to make a strong statement for clean cycling?”

Contador replied: “I’m available 365 days a year, which is something I accept with good grace for the sport I love. I will continue to have this attitude.”

Why do so many fall so short when given the chance to strike a blow against cheating? Does the omerta really preclude a cyclist from saying: “I did this completely clean and I am very proud to have done so.”

So what happens now? If the letter of the law were to be applied, Contador would be suspended for two years. He could appeal and if his “meat excuse” stood up at the Court of Arbitration for Sport his ban might be reduced.

But the damage is done. In the eyes of the world, the three-time Tour de France has tested positive for drugs and that is that.

It was the beef, it was the Jack Daniels and beers, it was the pressure from team management, the drugs were for my dog, my mother-in-law, it’s a witch-hunt, it’s a mistake. It’s all very tiring.

Alberto Contador: Related links

Spanish authorities investigate source of Contador’s mystery meat

McQuaid quiet on Contador case but says Spain can do more

Did Contador have a transfusion during the Tour?

Contador points finger at imported meat for clenbuterol positive

Contador tests positive for clenbuterol says governing body

  • jedi

    In response to Ken Evans – no, you’re right, the presence of plastics would not prove blood was in the bags but bear in mind the WADA code bans any kind of intravenous injections, including saline – unless it’s part of an authorised medical procedure for which the athlete would have documentation from a doctor.

    Quote: Intravenous infusions are prohibited except for those legitimately received in the course of hospital admissions or clinical investigations.

    An intravenous injection is the supply of a small volume of fluid or medication, in a rapid manner, by means of a simple syringe.
    An intravenous infusion is the insertion of a specialized needle into a vein and the infusion of fluids at a predetermined rate from a reservoir, usually above the level of the body.

  • Henry

    Again, the UCI is bad for the sport. They bring it into disrepute at the highest level. – Forgive me mentioning 2012 too, but even away from the doping incompetence, they are doing their best to spoil top level competition via this single national representative rule…then there’s the tinkering with bike designs…etc. – It’s as if the don’t like bike racing & want to stop it!

  • Joe

    This is such a shame for pro cycling! I don’t see how a rider can ask for their case to be kept quiet? Surely people have a right to know when a rider is implicated in a doping case, and on what grounds charges were dropped or up held, this would lead to equal treatment in each case. I always become suspicious now when a rider suddenly becomes good at an event he was previously poor at, for example AS final time trial in the Tour this year. Which is a shame because it could have just been an exceptional performance which the rider doesn’t get full credit for now.

  • Brian
  • k miller

    lord above how much more of this can one take I think everyone from the testers to the UCI and the shocked and horrified are reveling in all of this perhaps we should legalize the bloody stuff and let them all kill themselves at least we may get some exiting races we seem to live in a drug filled world in which all the fighting against drugs has produced more drugs that is also true of cycling i wish i knew the answer but as i have said many times prove beyond doubt that the accused are guilty and impose life bans that may work but something tells me that it will not perhaps we should legalize them after all in case this shocks the puritans i am only joking i think

  • Simon

    What a relief to read a no punches pulled article, just what was needed. I hope I am wrong, but I can feel the fudge that means Contador will be riding the Tour next year being concocted and stirred as I type.

  • Bikenutaz

    Truly enlightening and unfortunately very damning. The rules have to be applied to the letter and in doing so have to be applied fairly and equitably. This means they should apply to any and everybody. The results are positive and therefore the process should automatically be applied along with the inevitable consequences. In this day and age what are the UCI playing at. Did they really think they could keep it quiet? Their apparent naivety is only outstripped by that of Contador himself and his pathetic excuses.

  • Gary 613

    A well written, easy to understand article that puts into a single essay that sums up and projects to a wider audience what many of us think. Well done, and thanks.

  • justin goff

    The CW forum, the home of the pious and self righteous.

    Perhaps no one posting on here has ever had to work, perhaps no one has ever faced the pressure of having to perform in order to earn their wages and support their families. Perhaps everyone on here was born with a silver spoon in their mouths and had the good fortune to go to university and onwards to a fantastic and comfortable middle class life.

    I too abhor doping, but I am a realist and will never overlook the human aspect to all of this. Contador isn’t a machine, he is young man with the weight of the cycling world on his shoulders. A young man, a professional rugby league player, recently hung himself because he had a positive test and felt that he couldn’t carry on. Can’t anyone understand the pressures that professional athletes face to get that contract year on year? This isn’t a perfect world and sport isn’t perfect. Get over it.

  • armitage shanks

    Armstrong clean!! You have got to be having a laugh. What has always struck me about the pro peleton is that there have always been riders who are known for being clean, as if to be clean is unusual. Yet you never hear Armstrong, Vinkourov or Contador champion the cause of famously clean riders like Charly Mottet or Christophe Bassons, who are the real hero’s of cycling, the real brave men. No, they would rather remain silent on the issue. Claiming to be clean is always going to the default mechanism of a doper as they live a double life: the private as a cheat, the public life professing to be clean. They all do it. Pantani always claimed to be innocent, but it is irrefutable that he doped; Riss the same, though he admitted it later; Landis until recently, and that only leaves Armstrong and Contador. Let’s take the case of Armstrong, if he was clean and knew himself to be clean, if he truly had nothing to hide, and if he truly cared about his sport, then why does he not go out of his way to clean up cycling. He could say, ‘Look, here are all the papers from all my Tours, take them, go to the labs, match the numbers with all the samples, and then test them, and what’s more do it independently, get the French government to do it, and what’s more I will give you the money to do it, but it must be done independently, because, as I say, I truly have nothing to hide and I WAS CLEAN. But no. Instead, Armstrong employs a defence lawyer, carries out a cloak and dagger lifestyle, and is prepared to carry out the ‘did I cheat or did I not argument’ with the Federal government. But then that is the double life that he chose. Even when his samples were found to be positive in retrospect, he claimed they were tampered with; later, he would invoke the ultimate no-brainer, that it is all a conspiracy against him. It’s the argument to end all arguments. If you were clean, why would you make it, why would you want to go on defending yourself in such a manner. That is why I believe Landis has done what he has done. He naturally reverted to his default mechanism, as history proves with all dopers, but years later he got sick of carrying the monkey around on his back. Contador is now doing what all dopers have done in the past, blaming someone else, professing to be innocent. He’s even threatening to walk away from cycling. If he was clean, why would he want to walk away? Would he not want to fight his corner and go out of his way to prove he is clean, after all this is the sport he claims to love. But then if you were clean you would not test positive

  • James Paterson

    WADA rules state intravenous infusions are prohibited except for those legitimately received in the course of hospital admissions or clinical investigations. If AC used them, doesn’t matter whether they contained blood or water…

  • Adam

    Look at Voigt’s comments after another rider is rumbled… ‘Good, another cheating F*** i don’t have to deal with!’ Compare that to the AC interview (mentioned) and numerous LA quotes…. One wonders why they don’t take a stand… hmmmm…

    Laughed at Rolf’s comment 🙂

  • Mike Cope

    So , a certain poetic justice here …Bjarne the ( long delayed ) self confessed doper conned by Contador — will they both give back their winnings ?

  • Jamie Downs

    Although doping is inexcusable, it is sad that cycling in general has been tarred with this brush. If you consider Operation Puerto where a whole number of sportsmen were allegedly taking performance enhancing drugs, you only ever hear its name in relation to the latest cycling doping scandal. All of the others seem to have been forgotten.

  • Graham Duff

    Was wondering how long it would take to blame Armstorng. Amazing how so many continue to blame hm for the worlds ills! Must be some guy being able to control every rider in the peleton the last 10 years and more, sponsors/governing bodies, labs, politicians. As a simple cyclig fan brought up on Roche,Kelly and Big Mig its difficult to believe there were ever any clean riders. This sport could be finished if this goes on.

  • dave

    David Walsh said much the same in last Sundays Sunday Times. Both article are concise and they make it very hard to believe AC either if you wanted to.

  • Brendan Power

    I have absolutely no time for any drugs cheats but I do have a lot of time for “innocent until proven guilty”. I also think it’s important to be consistent in your condemnation. Incidentally, will Cycling Weekly be doing another article to praise Pantani this year?

  • Ken B

    A good article, well written summarising this situation.
    Unfortunately pro-cycling has about as much credibility as WWF/WWE wrestling (sorry wrestling fans)
    We potentially have two winners of the worlds most prestigous race being disqualified in the past 5 years.
    This will have implications for everyone involved! Sponsors will pull out, TV monies reduce, contracts will be not renewed. Smaller guys will suffer.
    I can understand why some pros are defending AC , as the the consequences of him being guilty are gonna be felt by everyone

  • Jerry Arron

    In a football stadium you collectively shout and jeer if you want to be heard.
    How do we go about demanding Pat McQuaid’s resignation?

  • Ken Evans

    “…..traces of a plastic residue
    the same as the type used to manufacture blood bags….”

    Doesn’t prove any bag(s) contained blood.
    Could have been anything, including water.

  • Matthew

    The real problem? The enforcement of illegal PEDs is as inconsistent as cheating is consistent.

    I have no sympathy for either party, the cheaters or enforcement end. They both ultimately cover their a**es, first.

  • This is a circus

    There are two important lessons to be learned here:

    1) The UCI needs to be completely dismantled and revamped. It is clearly a corrupt body, making and bending the rules as seems convenient (the list of examples is too long to list). They have less credibility than ever and if professional cycling ever wants to be taken seriously, the governing body cannot be in charge of drug testing. It’s a crystal clear case of conflict of interest. Corruption in the UCI is institutionalized and Pat McQuaid seems to be doing a great job of following in the footsteps of Verbruggen.

    2) The best way to never test positive is to ride for Johan Bruyneel. Get on his team and never leave! Two exceptions: your name is Fuyu Li, or Bruyneel wants you to test positive (Guseev).

    3) How is it possible that pro-cycling is still alive and attracting sponsors? If I had millions to burn in sponsorship, cycling would not be at the top of my list for safe investment… or perhaps they see it as ‘bad publicity is still publicity’?

  • Paul

    Funny how Armstrong never tested positive – probably cause he was clean, not what people want hear but true

  • Brian

    Sound article CW. Thanks Lionel Birnie, your integrity rocks.
    There is so much corruption in the sport we love. Pat McQuaid and his gang of moneymakers on the back of Cycling should be banned for life. Can you believe McQuaid is a member of the IOC board. Absolutely scary…

  • Tony

    Well, the low level of clenbuterol found may be explainable by contaminated meat, but do cows also get blood transfusions on a regular basis? If the plasticizers detection holds up I would say that Contador is burnt toast.

  • Peter

    Welcome back!
    Lionel’s comments page is the best thing on this site and has been missed since June.
    The way this story is unfolding and recent events concerning LA makes one think that the whole sport of professional cycling is totally corrupt.
    How is it that cyclists like Kohl are banned and ostracised from the sport whereas others with money, power and influence stay free?
    It looks as if Pat McQuaid and the UCI are trying to protect Contador. Why is that?
    And yet…
    Is there any coincidence between the announcement concerning the dropping of the Operation Puerto case and the subsequent announcements by the UCI that 4 top Spanish riders had been caught positive?
    What does Greg Lemond mean when he said “I can’t believe how many people have left a certain team and then gone positive…”?
    I’ve been following pro cycling since the early 80’s and nothing surprises me. You begin to question every move or announcement made by riders or their teams and wonder what’s behind it. Nothing is believable any more. I feel sorry for the new guys who want to race clean but it looks as if they are battling against impossible odds.
    Anyone for professional football?

  • Rolf

    Come on CW, he can’t have been doping, David Millar tells us Contador is a great guy! In fact the German lab tested Contador’s samples and found traces of ‘great guy’ to be 40 times higher than the WADA level that would trigger an automatic great guy award.

  • keith warmington

    yes good forthright stuff exactly what needed to be written. While all this is going on plus three other positives the UCI are introducing new rules for cyclo cross. Amazing. That’s like mowing your lawn while your house is burning down.The sport here is facing a huge potential scandal, with yet another TDF winner perhaps ending up disgraced When I think of the blazered chiefs who run cyclings governing body the word pusillanimous is the one that comes to mind. (obviously there are others!)

  • Brian Reynolds

    Yes remember that other Spanish climber and ex LA team mate. Herras who turned into a champion TT rider. I had the same thoughts about AC when he started to win TT’s

  • Simon Jones

    Excellent article by LB – absolutely spot on in my view. Always amazed me how a scrawny wee climber transformed himself in to one of the worlds best time trialists. It is a shame though for cycling fans (and Andy Schleck, assuming he is clean) who need a champion they can be sure of.

  • Robin

    Thank you CW. I have being waiting for you to write something balanced on the subject.

    The problem to me seems to lie with the UCI. They have quite clearly meddled in the case and to my mind made it worse.

    Do the French authorities have any jurisdiction should the UCI decide to not pursue it or to give AC a 3 month ban? Because unless they do and given the UCI’s apparent reticence to take Contador to task the millions of internet column inches written about this subject will be for nought. We will have another valverde style fiasco / case on our hands.

    The right and proper thing to do here is to give him a two year ban now. Nip it in the bud and move on. If he has any common sense he’ll accept it with good grace. He may find that he’s welcomed back with slightly more open arms than the Ricco’s of this world.

  • martin

    if contador is dirty, what does that mean for schleck, who matched him pedal for pedal on most of the climbs of the tour?

  • peter goodall

    Yet another “STAR” is “CAUGHT”!what more is there to say?When will “THEY”learn that we want clean cycling?Life bans are what we should have!

  • kelsey

    what a bad spaniard! blaming his test on his country, tsk tsk. 🙂

  • bryan clarke

    As usual, your man tells it as it is. i am sure most informed fans wish the UCI would take a stronger and more open attitude to our sport. The question of life bans is now required.

    The recent history of our sport means that the evidence should be accepted. Send him down

  • christopher Leigh

    A comprehensively well written article by Lionel Birnie. No ‘sucking up to the druggies’ here. I for one hope that we won’t see Contador in the peleton again. The testing procedure is catching people and that is something we should all embrace. I might even return to watching it on the telly after years of drugtireditis.

  • borderfox

    OH DEAR! just another 1 of Armstrongs former team mates testing positive……. strange isnt it?

  • Ian Hoggarth

    Great article. Articulates perfectly the way most of us cycling fans are feeling. Love the ‘dog ate my homework’ analogy – spot on.

  • Cooljase

    Yes, it’s tiring but in the absence of relentless determination to apply the letter of law as strictly as possible, we’re relying on the press to do the work instead. So thanks for this piece. I hope you won’t have to write many more like it, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Colin S Upchurch

    I have loved cycling all my life from being a clubman in the fifties but have not been active since then. I have followed all the major races for 60 years and am fast running out of patience with the whole setup and particularly with the UCI and Professional racing. I have long not trusted Spanish sport, not just cycling, but all other Spanish atheletes. Contador’s defence is totally without any substance,(No pun intended). They were given a month to come up with the meat story, and did he also eat the wrapping? The UCI are kept in financial luxury by their income from the sport, and are always inventing new ways to improve their income, and are therefore financially dependant on the sport. More loss of credibility in the sport will decrease their income particularly from loss of Pro teams. I am also concerned about the increase in stage difficulty in the major tours, this will lead to the possibility of more doping.

  • Henry Ayres

    Great article. Explains a lot and puts a lot of question to bed for me. Very useful in trying to understand what the issues are and why these things keep happening.

  • John Calliott

    Actually, the facts in this article aren’t perfect either. The Clenbuterol showed up in two tests, once at a level of 50, the next day a level of 20, so it was 2 positives. And you should look up “pictogram”. The New York Times has a source telling them that 8 times the minimum doping level of plasticizers are in the urine of July 20, but we were told there was no Clenbuterol in that sample, so if it was in stored blood, why wouldn’t it show up in the urine the same day as the plasticizers? Unless there were two transfusions over a few days, it doesn’t support anyone’s theory about the source of Clenbuterol. Telesport claimed that Contador & the chef are lying because the chef told AS he had bought meat in Pau, but that was BS because he said in July it was for the meal after the Tourmalet. I hate the UCI, but journalists have also done a horrible job of this with no public data. And the Times source agreed to keep their info confidential, but was happy to break that vow if their name stayed out of the papers.