Alberto Contador: How strong is the doping case against him?
Alberto Contador, winner of this year's Tour de France, tested positive for a banned substance during the race. The cycling superstar says he was a victim of food contamination.
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The international cycling federation, UCI, announced today that traces of the banned drug clenbuterol had been found in Mr. Contador’s sample from July 21 – the second and final rest day of this year’s grueling Tour. He went on to beat Andy Schleck of Luxembourg by a mere 39 seconds after 2,262 miles of racing.
If Contador is charged with doping he could become only the second rider ever to be stripped of his Tour title – following US cyclist Floyd Landis’s fall from grace in 2006. Clenbuterol use carries a two-year ban.
But such a result is far from certain in this case.
Contador blames meat he ate
Illustrating the complexity of the case, the "adverse analytical finding" by the German lab responsible for doping controls at this year's Tour was only revealed to Contador on Aug. 24. The UCI took another month before announcing his suspension and an ongoing investigation could take months to yield a final result.
The Spanish superstar blamed the traces, which were 400 times below what accredited labs must be able to detect, as coming from meat he had consumed the previous evening – a claim supported by Dutch doctor Douwe de Boer, who provided an opinion at the request of Contador's attorney.
That would have been the night after Contador, a renowned climber, finished nearly seven minutes out of the lead on the first of two trips up the race's most notorious climb, the Col du Tourmalet. After the rest day, when the drug was detected, he and rival Schleck dusted the entire field in a strenuous rematch up the Col du Tourmalet, which Schleck won by half a length.
In a detailed opinion, Dr. Boer argues that given the short half-life of the drug and the fact that no traces of it showed up in Contador’s July 19 or 20 tests, the cyclist must have ingested it on the night of July 20. He also says clenbuterol – an anabolic agent used mainly to treat asthma – is sometimes used illegally as a growth agent for cattle. If humans eat such meat, the substance can show up in their system.