The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling's governing body, has provisionally suspended Tour de France winner Alberto Contador today after an anti-doping test taken at this year's race revealed traces of the banned drug clenbuterol.
The Spanish cyclist of team Astana tested positive from an UCI anti-doping control submitted on July 21, the second rest day of this year's Tour de France. He went on to win the race, his third overall victory, four days later on July 25 by 39 seconds ahead of Luxembourg's Andy Schleck.
Clenbuterol helps people with breathing disorders, such as asthma. An athlete could use the drug to help increase oxygen transportation and so the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as a banned substance.
"The concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms (or 0.000 000 000 05 grams per ml)," said the UCI in today's press release, "which is 400 times less than what the anti-doping laboratories accredited by WADA must be able to detect."
The UCI has confirmed the result with Contador's back up B sample and is working with the WADA to "analyse all the elements that are relevant to the case."
Contador announced in a press statement overnight that the UCI first communicated the findings to him on August 24, one month after the Tour de France ended in Paris.
"From the time of the first communication ... Alberto Contador alleged food contamination as the only possible explanation," read a press release by Contador.
"The experts consulted so far have agreed also that this is a food contamination case, especially considering the number of tests passed by Alberto Contador during the Tour de France."
Contador will talk about the positive result at a press conference in Pinto (near Madrid) today at 12:00 local time.
Chinese cyclist Fuyu Li of team RadioShack tested positive for a similar low level of clenbuterol (50 to 100 picograms, or 0.05 to 0.10 nanograms, ng) on March 23 at a Belgian race. The UCI provisionally suspended him one month later and the Chinese federation may suspend him for two years, though it is not clear if it has issued a ban.
Dutchman Douwe de Boer spoke on Li's behalf in May. The biochemist heads team Vacansoleil's anti-doping programme and is a former director of the WADA-approved laboratory in Lisbon, Portugal.
"Laboratories must be able to find 1.00 ng/mL, while a normal threshold value is considered to be 2.00 ng/mL," he said. "The value of 0.05-0.10 ng/mL that was found in Fuyu Li's body points clearly in the direction of a contamination. On top of that, such a low dose would not help his performance in any way."
De Boer added that clenbuterol contaminates can be found in food supplements and in meat.
Contador has won the Tour de France three times (2007, 2009, 2010) and had recently agreed a high-profile transfer from Astana to Bjarne Riis's Saxo Bank team.
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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