Alberto Contador, who in July won the Tour de France for the third time, has been provisionally suspended after testing positive for the banned substance, clenbuterol following a drugs test during this year’s race. The B sample taking from the Astana rider at the same time has confirmed the result. The cyclist, who was made aware of the result on 24 August, denies doping and claims the presence of the substance is due to food contamination.
The banned drug, whose prescription uses include acting as a decongestant for sufferers of asthama and other conditions, helps with aerobic performance and boosts the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. It also causes fat to be metabolized more quickly, and is widely used to help with weight loss.
News of Contador’s failed test was communicated this morning in a statement by cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and is bound to cast a huge shadow over the world championships currently taking place in Australia. The UCI says that the amount of clenbuterol found in the Spaniard’s urine samples taken on the second rest day of the race is “very small” estimated at 50 picograms (or 0,000 000 000 05 grams per ml) and that further investigation is required. According to a later UCI statement "this concentration is 400 time less than what the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA must be able to detect". However WADA officials have also made it clear that there is no minimum threshold for a positive test.
It added that it “continues working with the scientific support of WADA [the World Anti-doping Agency] to analyse all the elements that are relevant to the case. This further investigation may take some more time.”
In a statement released by his publicist Jacinto Vidarte and reported by The Associated Press, the 27-year-old, who has won the Tour de France in three out of the last four years, missing the race in 2008 when he rode and won both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta instead, claimed that the only explanation for the presence of the substance in his urine was food contamination.
"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," said the statement, "making it possible to define precisely both the time the emergence of the substance as the tiny amount detected, ruling out any other source or intentionality."
David Howman, WADA’s director general, told The Associated Press that even the tiniest amount of clenbuterol could lead to action being taken against an athlete, although he was unable to talk about the particular aspects of Contador’s situation.
"The issue is the lab has detected this,” Howman said. “They have the responsibility for pursuing. There is no such thing as a limit where you don't have to prosecute cases. This is not a substance that has a threshold," he continued.
"Once the lab records an adverse finding, it's an adverse finding and it has to be followed up.
"Clenbuterol is a substance that has been used for over 20 to 30 years," Howman continued. "It is not anything new. Nobody has ever suggested it is something you can take inadvertently."
Contador is widely considered to be the most complete rider in the world at the moment and, given his age, one with the potential to dominate the sport for years to come.
He is due to join Bjarne Riis’s Team Sungard-Saxo Bank for the 2011 season. Ironically, should it result that Contador is banned and stripped of this year’s Tour de France title, that would pass to outgoing Saxo Bank rider Andy Schleck, who finished the race 38 seconds behind him, and who is joining the new Luxembourg-based team currently being set up.
Given that Contador was advised of the result of the test more than a month ago, the timing of the UCI's statement, coming as it does in the middle of the World Championships in which the rider is not competing, is a curious one. The Spaniard is due to hold a press conference later today and of course we will bring you news of that plus other reaction as soon as we have it.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.