Femke Van den Briessche’s claim that the bike prepped for her at last week’s UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships and found to have a hidden motor in fact belonged to a friend has provoked a fair bit of chin-rubbing à la late Jimmy Hill.
It’s the first case we’ve seen of mechanical doping – or “technological fraud” in UCI-speak – and one that is yet to be resolved, but it got us thinking about some of the more 'out there' defences that riders accused of doping have used. Here are five of them.
The Whiskey Didn’t Kill The Pain, the song goes, but that doesn’t stop some from seeking solace in a glass of the water of life. When Floyd Landis's challenge for the 2006 Tour de France spectacularly went up in smoke on Stage 16 (he began the stage in the race lead and ended it more than 8 minutes down on new leader, Oscar Pereiro), he opted for some southern comfort of the Lynchburg, Tennessee, variety.
The following day’s stage was one of the most astonishing in the race’s history as Landis – riding with a painful hip condition he had suffered from for years – went on a 120-kilometre solo attack to win at Morzine and get back to half a minute of the race lead. Incredulity among TV viewers was stretched well beyond breaking point; this was taking the piss.
Which, of course, is what the anti-doping testers did, in the literal sense. Just four days after winning the yellow jersey in Paris, it was revealed that Landis’s testosterone levels on Stage 17 were off the scale. He blamed it on the Jack Daniels he’s had the night before, but would become the first American to be stripped of a Tour de France title – setting in motion a chain of events which would help ensure former team mate Lance Armstrong became the second.
Tyler Hamilton was another former Armstrong team mate who helped bring him down, but as with Landis it took several years for him to admit his own doping. He was banned for two years after a blood sample taken during the 2004 Vuelta turned out not only to contain his own blood, but also someone else’s.
His ‘vanishing twin’ defence, put forward by an expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was one of the more unusual seen in a doping case – that his sibling had died in utero, and that stem cells from the foetus had transferred to him, helping explain why there were two types of blood in his system, a condition known as ‘chimerism.’
The authorities weren’t buying it, and Hamilton later admitted that it had all been made up to try and explain away his positive test, but not before he received a further, eight-year ban in 2009 for taking the banned steroid DHEA, which he claimed he was using to treat depression.
Lithuania’s Raimondas Rumšas had some decent results among his palmarès ahead of the 2002 Tour de France but few would have had him down as a genuine contender. The Lampre-Vini Fantini rider finished on the podium in Paris, however, in third place behind Lance Armstrong and Joseba Beloki.
Not that he had time to celebrate – that very morning, French police in the Alps had arrested his wife when the car she was driving was found to contain industrial quantities of substances including corticosteroids, testosterone, EPO, growth hormones and anabolic steroids. The rider’s excuse? It was all for his mother-in-law.
While Rumšas was never sanctioned by the sporting authorities for that episode – he and his wife, who spent several months in custody, later received suspended sentences from a French criminal court – he was later banned after testing positive for EPO during the 2003 Giro d’Italia. He is now sports director – and still listed as a rider – for a team on the Italian Gran Fondo circuit.
So, you’ve just won the biggest race of your life and it’s landed you a contract with one of the top teams in the sport and a spot as your country’s protected rider at the road race at the World Championships in a few days’ time.
You might want a little celebration, yes? But best keep it low key, eh? Well, not if you’re Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who fresh from winning the 2012 Tour of Britain and signing for Team Sky claimed to have gone on a 33 unit (that's about 15 pints of beer) bender that seems to have taken him round half the bars in Bristol.
That was his explanation for the biological passport anomalies that UK Anti-Doping instead found were consistent with his having used EPO. The result? A two-year ban, and a P45 from the team that has won three of the past four editions of the Tour de France.
A number of cyclists and athletes in other sports have escaped sanction for testing positive for clenbuterol – typically, in cases where the positive sample was taken in China or Mexico, both countries where illegal farming methods mean it is common found in meat intended for human consumption.
So when it was revealed that Alberto Contador had tested positive for a minute quantity of the substance during the 2011 Tour de France, the tainted meat defence was an unsurprising one to deploy. He’d tucked into a steak, it was claimed, on the Tour’s second rest day in Pau. The meat had apparently been bought in Spain, butcher’s shops presumably being thin on the ground in a city of 85,000 people in a country famed worldwide for steak-frites.
The Spanish authorities banned him for a year, which Contador quickly got overturned on appeal, leading to allegations that political interference had helped clear him. When the case eventually reached the Court of Arbitration for Sport though, he received a mainly backdated two-year ban and was stripped of his 2011 Tour de France victory as well as his win in the following year’s Giro d’Italia, which he had ridden as the case dragged on.
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.