An award-winning German journalist who specialises in doping stories has said that the traces of clenbuterol found in Alberto Contador’s urine following a drugs test during July’s Tour de France may have been the result of a blood transfusion and not, as the Astana rider claims, due to his having eaten contaminated meat.
The allegations emerged since the UCI confirmed in the early hours of yesterday morning that the Astana rider had tested positive for the banned substance on the second rest day of July’s Tour de France. The Spaniard has been provisionally suspended while a full investigation is carried out by the UCI and the World Anti-doping Authority (WADA).
The journalist, Hans Joachim Seppelt, from the German TV station ARD, also claims that the UCI initially denied that Contador was under investigation when he contacted its President, Pat McQuaid on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
According to the Velonation website, Seppelt told ARD’s Mittags Magazin show yesterday: “We have been on this case for weeks and we knew a few days ago. “We tried to contact the UCI yesterday [on Wednesday], but they said they won't give a comment. We then called Pat McQuaid. He said 'I don't even know what you are talking about'."Then later the press release came out. So the UCI was lying yesterday.”
As it turned out, the UCI’s hand was forced after Contador’s press agent broke the news, with its official communication coming out shortly afterwards. Seppelt believes that there may be sinister reasons behind the delay in the UCI making the news public.
“The UCI has had many problems with credibility in the last few years, like in the case of Lance Armstrong, he said, adding that in the case of Contador, “the A and B sample were already taken, the procedure was done and still the public wasn't informed. It appears they want to keep this case under the covers or give Alberto Contador the opportunity to find arguments for his innocence. This should not happen. To me it appears to be a cartel from those who want to conceal.”
Even now that Contador’s test result has been made official, with investigations continuing, McQuaid is understandably reluctant to comment on the situation. The UCI presiden, who who is attending the Road World Championships and the UCI Congress in Australia, told Associated Press that he was “completely limited" in what he was able to say about the issue, adding “I'm saying nothing."
Potentially more damaging for Contador is the allegation that the traces of clenbuterol could be linked to an illegal blood transfusion.
“ARD has obtained the exact values from Spain,” claimed Seppelt. “This shows that it is not very likely that we are dealing with contaminated foods, especially in light of the fact that in Europe, it is highly unlikely that foods, such as meat, are contaminated with clenbuterol. It happens in Asian countries, but it is strictly prohibited in Europe. Also, there were no other positive test cases with contaminated meat, so the statement from Contador is not credible.
“There are other, very, very incriminating suspicious facts against Contador,” he continued. “Other values have appeared that are ten times over the higher value from so-called plasticizers [such as di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) – ed.] which are used in blood bags. These values were measured one day before the positive dope control. These blood bag softener values could indicate that autologous blood doping may have been performed.”
“The UCI completely kept this under the covers,” he added. “They didn't say anything to this yesterday. Again the question about the credibility of the UCI comes up.”
Seppelt compared the case to that of Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after failing a drugs test, and suggested that Contador could suffer a similar fate.
“If the other incriminating factors are added, if potential autologous blood doping was used and if it can be proved - which is currently strongly debated - then there is the question if Alberto Contador can keep his yellow jersey. I am pretty certain that just like Floyd Landis, the title will be taken away from him in the foreseeable future. It is not only the Tour winner who looks to stand in a shady light, but especially the UCI, which couldn't prove its credibility.”
French sports daily L’Equipe is also pursuing the angle that the traces of plastic supposedly found in Contador’s urine may be evidence of his having undergone a tranfusion, saying that the particles were of the type that would come from a plastic sachet used to store blood prior to transfusion. It adds that a laboratory in Barcelona is developing a plastic traces test as an indicator of auto transfusion, but the test procedure has not been fully validated.
Meanwhile, with yesterdays news regarding Contador accompanies by announcements of positive drugs tests during last month’s Vuelta for the Xacobeo-Galicia riders Ezequiel Mosquera and David Garcia, as well as further allegations against the Italian rider Riccardo Ricco, there is speculation about the wider damage being done to the sport.
According to a report on the sports website bettor.com, the German press is reporting that two of the country's TV stations, ARD and ZDF are considering pulling the plug on their Tour de France coverage. The amount of airtime devoted to the race has already been scaled back in recent years as a result of doping scandals involving German riders.
The website adds that Saxo Bank, co-sponsor of the Bjarne Riis-owned team that Contador is due to join next season, may reconsider its sponsorship should the cyclist be banned.
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.