It's been a quiet week in the Alberto Contador doping case, but that's not to say nothing has happened. in the past few days the head of the World Anti-Doping Agancy (WADA) has confirmed that the organisation wants its day in court and that it's prepared to play a long game; Contdador's lawyer explained the "misunderstanding" over RFEC's one year ban that wasn't; and the IoC's top anti-doping official said he had never seen convincing evidence in any claim of accidental doping by eating contaminated food.
"The case is not finished". Just in case any sunny optimists on the Iberian peninsula hadn't got the message, the head of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), David Howman, spelled out the organisation's position loud and clear speaking at a conference in Budapest.
Tellingly In the interview with the German dpa News Agency Howman went out of his way not to ruffle any feathers at the UCi - the two bodies have not always enjoyed the best of relations and under his predecessor Dick Pound things got downright rocky with then WADA boss regularly commenting on the perceived shortcomings of UCI procedures – the two organisations fell out spectacularly over the introduction of the UCI's Biological Passport program for riders. However, those fences are long since mended and Howman, a more conciliatory figure seems keen to keep them mended too.
The UCI has 30 days following the decision by the Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) to decide what action if any it wants to take, after that WADA then has a further 21 days to decide on what action it wants to take, Howman did not rule out a possible joint appeal by both bodies to the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) but he stressed that UCI procedures must run their course. He also made it clear that WADA had no problem with the UCI making it the responsibility of a rider's national federation to institute disciplinary proceedings in the first instance - with the international body then ratifying (or not) the sanction imposed
"It's the rule that they have at UCI, that every case at the first level has to be dealt with by the country where the rider is registered. That's their rule," Howman noted.
"They've got the authority to make their rules the way they wish. So long as they're in compliance with the (anti-doping) code, then that's their decision," he said.
Ironically this is an aspect of cycling's governance that comes in for criticism from within the cycling community by those who feel it leads to favouritism towards star riders by their national federations.
On the thorny subject of a baseline threshold for clenbuterol testing, below which samples would not be considered positive, Howman said that was a decision for WADA policy makers but he made it clear that he was not in favour:
"I think the issue is this. If you introduce a threshold, then what you might do is miss a person who has taken the substance let's say three months ago, and it's still in their body. So when they test, it's not a huge amount, it's a small amount because it's left over from three months ago."
He also pointed out that currently there is no scientific evidence to show at what point low level amounts of clenbuterol stop having a boosting effect nor is there a political definition of at what point the amount of the drug in an athlete's system is considered cheating. "What level do you want us to go to to try to find that somebody's been cheating? That's a political decision, it's not my decision. At the moment we don't have a level, politically and scientifically."
On the subject of clenbuterol the WADA director general has asked the Chinese to provide evidence about the levels of clenbuterol abuse by Chinese farmers bulking up their livestock. Scores of Chinese athletes have failed tests for clenbuterol in recent years many citing tainted meat as the cause, amongst them RadioShack's Chinese rider, Fuyu Li, while as reported here recently a study of travelers returning from China by the German Sport University Cologne found that 22 of 28 people tested would have failed a dope test for clenbuterol - with tainted meat being cited as the most likely reason.
Howman wouldn't comment on the specifics of the Contador case and neither later in the week would Prof Arne Ljungqvist the president of the IoC Medical Commission and as such it's chief anti-doping official, however he did make some comments which might prove relevant further down the line.
Speaking to the Australian newspaper, The Age Ljungqvist said he had seen no convincing evidence yet of food contamination in doping cases and he remained dubious of such claims of accidental doping. Again, while refusing to comment on the specifics of the Contador case Prof Ljungqvist said:
''It's not the first time that a national federation excuses their own athlete…That's why we have this safeguard of an appeal system. We've had cases of that kind even as far back as the 1980s, and so far there has been no hearing panel that has accepted those arguments in the end.''
As well as being the IoC's head of anti-doping Professor Ljunqvist is also the vice president of WADA's Foundation Board, WADA's supreme decision making body and the one which would have the final say so on any changes to the rules regarding threshold amounts of clenbuterol in test samples. Amusingly, or perhaps not depending on your point of view, both former WADA chief Dick Pound and UCI boss, Pat McQuaid also sit on the Foundation Board which must add a level of complication to the seating plan whenever they all get together.
In other Contador related news The Independent last week spoke to Alberto Contador's lawyer, Andy Ramos who explained that the furore over RFEC's apparent decision to scrap an initial one year ban in favour of complete acquital had all been a misunderstanding… something of a recurring theme in the Contador case.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.