Image under a Creative Commons Licence by Jonathan Cohen on Flickr

The revelation that Alberto Contador tested positive for a tiny amount of a banned substance at the Tour de France has really backed the sport’s governing body into a corner for a number of reasons:

  1. The substance in question, clenbuterol has no lower threshold limit below which a positive is not reported;
  2. Due to the WADA code of strict liability (i.e. the athlete is held responsible for all substances found in his system), a ban for a failed test is mandatory;
  3. That ban can be reduced (but not rescinded) if the athlete can prove that the substance got into his system inadvertently (through tainted meat as Contador alleges in this case);
  4. Any ban also automatically means that race results from the date of the positive test are withdrawn, thus declaring Andy Schleck the winner of the Tour de France 2010.

Thus, it seems quite clear that given the infinitesimally tiny amount of clenbuterol it would be in every party to this matter’s interest that this whole affair was swept under the carpet, exactly as has been alleged by various blogs and papers. Every party except one that is – the wider public.

By attempting to draw a veil over this matter, the sport’s governing body (UCI) would be breaking WADA (and its own) ?rules, regardless of whether you considered the amount found to be trivial or not. It would leave itself open to the accusation that high profile athletes falling foul of stringent anti-doping rules get treated differently to others. (note: the Radioshack rider, Fuyu Li was also busted for clenbuterol in March with little outcry). Moreover, what if, as some allege, the tiny amount of clenbuterol may be an indicator of other illegal practices such as the transfusion of stored amounts of the athlete’s own blood to boost recovery?

Under normal circumstances, it might be possible to find a degree of sympathy for the situation that the rider and governing body find themselves in, however, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Contador was linked (and subsequently cleared by a Spanish court) with the notorious Operacion Puerto. His subsequent reluctance to talk about the allegations left many feeling that his credibility was tainted leading to the thought that ?the transfusion theories etc might not be so far fetched.

As usual, by allegedly trying to bury the whole thing, the UCI comes out smelling of manure.

And now the latest news: WADA seem happy with the way that the UCI is progressing the case, but big doubts are being cast over the contaminated meat alibi.

One last point, since Clenbuterol was banned in the EU, over 83,000 tests have been conducted to detect its presence in farm animals. 1 has been returned positive, and it wasn’t in Spain (over 18,000 tests have been conducted in Spain alone.

Useful links:

Questions raised by the affair The Inner Ring blog

The Transfusion Theory Science of Sport blog

Contador’s links to Operacion Puerto The Inner Ring Blog

The full Cycling News index on Operacion Puerto