Tour de France winner Alberto Contador’s fight to clear his name following his positive test for clenbuterol may be set to become even more difficult than it already was following news that he failed a second drugs test during July’s race.
The claim has been made by The New York Times, which says that a new test, introduced in the Tour de France for the first time this year, had detected traces of plasticizers found in plastic IV bags, suggesting evidence of a blood transfusion.
While that claim had already been made by French sports daily L’Equipe as well as the German TV channel which first uncovered the story, it had been assumed that the plasticizers were contained in the sample taken from Contador at the second rest day in Pau that also showed minute traces of clenbuterol.
Not so, says the New York Times, which quotes “a person with knowledge of the test results” as saying that the plasticizers, at a level eight times higher than the legal limit, have been discovered in a sample taken from the cyclist the previous day.
If it’s true that Contador has recorded a second positive result for a different substance – and, moreover, one for which there is a minimum level that has been well exceeded – that places him in a much more difficult position.
The cyclist has claimed that the clenbuterol found its way into his urine as a result of his having eaten contaminated meat, and given the infinitesimal amount of clenbuterol involved – there is no legal threshold required to test positive for the substance – many have been prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
A second failed test would cast doubt on Contador’s protestations of innocence, particularly given the fact that since news broke last week of his positive test for clenbuterol, the Astana rider has maintained that the fact none of the other samples taken from him at the Tour de France have contained traces of anything untoward.
While the test for the presence of plasticizers has been in operation for a year, it is not yet formally validated for use in anti-doping, so an athlete could potentially argue in court that an adverse finding was not valid.
Equally, however, it could be introduced as evidence of doping by prosecutors in support of another positive test, as seems to be the situation in Contador’s case.
“Even without a validated test, it could be looked at in a case-by-case basis,” insisted Francesco Botré, chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory in Rome.
“If someone has a very, very high level of plasticizers in the urine, it would be hard for that athlete to explain how that happened if not for doping. If the level is lower, it obviously would make it much harder, but it would still be possible to prove,” he added.
Jacinto Vidarte, Contador’s press agent, told The New York Times yesterday that the 27-year old “has done nothing illegal,” and that he denied involvement in blood transfusions.
He also pointed out that “There has been no official confirmation at all,” regarding last week’s reports that traces of plastcizer had been found in Contador’s urine.
Bernhard Kohl, who finished third in the 2008 Tour de France but was subsequently disqualified after failing a drugs test, told The New York Times: “It’s impossible to win the Tour de France without doping.”
The Austrian, who is speaking at the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s science conference, added that he believes most top riders undergo transfusions of their own blood as well as currently undetectable substances such as variants of EPO
“I was tested 200 times during my career, and 100 times I had drugs in my body,” Kohl pointed out. “I was caught, but 99 other times, I wasn’t. Riders think they can get away with doping because most of the time they do,” he added.
“Even if there is a new test for blood doping, I’m not even sure it will scare riders into stopping. The problem is just that bad,” Kohl concluded.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.