Over on cyclingnews.com

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

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I’ve always wanted to appear on cyclingnews.com, preferably a big article with images of me winning a mountain stage in front of an adoring crowd. Barring a late discovery that I’ve been getting my training very, very wrong that’s never going to happen.

So when the editor of cyclingnews.com got in touch to ask for my opinion on the Contador verdict, I was quick to reply with some thoughts. It required some mental gymnastics to fit so many ideas and issues into just 200 words. But it’s now online over at cyclingnews.com and for the record, here’s what I wrote:

As I write, we don’t know the reasons behind the Spanish federation’s decision to acquit Alberto Contador. Last week’s leaked documents showed the RFEC was minded to impose a one year ban. My immediate question is therefore what happened over the weekend? Did Contador’s defence team find the necessary proof required under the UCI’s Rule #296?

If there’s no proof, then the hypothesis of contaminated steak is just that, a theory. I’ve never understood the certainty Contador attached to the rogue steak explanation. Surely if Clenbuterol was ingested by accident it could equally come via contaminated milk, some ham or a spiked drink?

Far from being the end of the matter, this could well go beyond cycling, the Tour de France and Spain. Because if there’s no proof where the Clenbuterol came from, then it marks a fundamental rejection of the WADA Code and its principle of “strict liability”. The internationally accepted set of rules are being ignored and it’ll be interesting to see what the UCI, WADA and even the IOC do next.

This is cycling’s version of the OJ Simpson verdict. Everyone expected a conviction, suddenly Contador’s in the clear. After six months of investigation there are still more questions than answers.

Starr February 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Getting that call from “thee” website for racing news, is only your first step. Inrng articles have me coming back every day. So keep up the good niche work and don’t lose touch with the off-beat stuff you keep throwing at us.

tomtom February 15, 2011 at 11:32 pm

“If there’s no proof, then the hypothesis of contaminated steak is just that, a theory.”

There’s a big difference between an hypothesis and a theory. This must be the mental gymnastics of which you write.

“A hypothesis attempts to answer questions by putting forth a plausible explanation that has yet to be rigorously tested. A theory, on the other hand, has already undergone extensive testing by various scientists and is generally accepted as being an accurate explanation of an observation. This doesn’t mean the theory is correct; only that current testing has not yet been able to disprove it, and the evidence as it is understood, appears to support it.”

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-difference-between-a-theory-and-a-hypothesis.htm

gilbert February 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm

please remember that the tennis table player tested positive in china and made an hair test of him and the other teammates that resulted positive to “clemby” too

gilbert February 15, 2011 at 11:58 pm

ah if you practice italian see http://www.sportpro.it/doping/editoriali/index.htm#CONTADOR_ASSOLTO
but I hope you just read it.

The Inner Ring February 16, 2011 at 12:16 am

Starr – thanks. Rest assured I wan to keep things interesting. I’m really enjoying all the comments, not to mention email, twitter and more. So if you and anyone else has ideas, keep them coming. And if you think the “off-beat stuff” is drying up, let me know as that’s half the point of The Inner Ring.

tomtom – thanks too, I’ve learned something. I’m normally careful with my words but didn’t realise “theory” had such an established meaning. When I think about it, yes I know what you mean. But that’s what happens when a blogger is asked for a snap view.

gilbert: It’s worth me saying that the link you reference is the voice of Eugenio Capodacqua, a man I have a vast respect for. Yes I certainly “practice” Italian, it’s not fluent but I’ll always make the effort to read Capodacqua. Grazie.

Mini Me February 16, 2011 at 2:28 am

I’m not surpriced … who would want a Tour without Contador? And besides, Fränk Schleck was cleared by the Luxembourg federation even though he admittet having paid Eufermiano Fuentes 7000 euros just to se what kind of training plans he would get …. yeah right!

The Potato Man February 16, 2011 at 2:54 am

tomtom has the right of it with regards to the theory definition. I like Asimov’s statement regarding theories:
“[Creationists] make it sound as though a “theory” is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.”
He was of course referring to the theory of evolution, which is probably one of the most thoroughly tested theories that exists in science.

Semantics (and religion) aside; a very level headed statement on the issue and it’s possible ramifications, one of the best included in that article. Congratulations on making the “big time.”

limonata February 16, 2011 at 4:32 am
Mark Walker February 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

I like the points you make, especially the one about how AC’s defense seems certain it is the steak from Spain. It is only one explanation and he’s been relying on it without any supporting evidence or reasons to rule out other causes.

Ryano February 16, 2011 at 5:48 am

And everyone in Europe collectively says, “What the hell is an OJ Simpson”?

Nice post! Glad I found your blog a few weeks ago, really informative and enjoyable!!

The Inner Ring February 16, 2011 at 8:57 am

Mini me: that’s the big question, is he an asset or a liability.

The Potato Man: in view of the comments, I wish I could revisit the text and change “theory” for “belief” or “notion”.

Limonata: nice! I was in Cycle Sport magazine last December too, but again sadly no feature on my winning ways.

Mark Walker: yes, I don’t understand the certainty. You can say “I had the steak, it’s possible, quite possible” but to rely on one explanation alone suggests a certainty that borders on foolishness… or worse.

Ryano: glad you enjoy it. As for OJ Simpson, it was front page news in Europe and the trial received a lot of coverage so hopefully some in Europe got the reference.

MK February 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Consider what clenbuterol is used for: creating lean muscle. If one is going to state that they did not intentionally ingest clenbuterol and instead a positive test for the substance is the result of contamination, then the obvious culprit is a meat product. There would be no reason to suspect it would be in water, vegetables, or even milk (as there’s no reason to create lean muscle in dairy cattle). Then, consider the half life of clenbuterol, which is approx. 35 hours. Given the timing of when the urine sample that produced positive test was taken, it’s very easy to back up the timeline to a specific time against which you can compare what was ingested. In light of the fact that Contador consumed steak on the day the positive test sample was taken, that certainly whittles it down to a likely culprit. So, when you think about it logically, there’s a very good reason why Contador’s defense has only focused on the meat as his alibi.

As for the rest of your post, you really do leave some enourmous gaps in reasoning or understanding of the sport’s regulations in order to draw your conclusions. For example, the standard of strict liability regarding accidental ingestion was brought in to address the issue of athletes using “contaminated supplements” as a defense. The reason “strict liability” is enforced in that instance is because it is well known that legal supplements are often manufactured using the same equipment as many illegal substances. As such, athletes are expected to recognize that, should they choose to use supplements, they do so at their own risk. However, a cut of meat is a wildly different thing than a sports supplement and there’s not a team on the planet that tests meat or other foodstuffs for contamination prior to consumption.

When you look at it from these perspectives, the decision of the RFEC seems pretty reasonable. There was nothing in Contador’s testing from earlier in the Tour, nor from his biological passport, to suggest active use of clenbuterol or any other manipulation. The much-discussed plasticizer test, which was never confirmed to have actually been conducted, appears to have been a red herring. The amount of clenbuterol detected is in-line with what many experts agree is consistent with food-borne contamination. The level detected also could not have had a performance enhancing affect according to the WADA’s own minimum required performance level, which is 2 nanograms/ml — 40x more than what was found in Contador’s system. So, if these are true and you accept the plausability of food contamination as the source of the positive result, this definitely meets the standard for a positive result resulting neither from negiligance nor intent on the part of the rider.

The Inner Ring February 16, 2011 at 8:57 pm

MK: yes, it’s possible the steak is a cause. But only possible. I know the issues over strict liability and the supplements. No team will test meat of course, they don’t test supplements either. The issue is now whether WADA accepts the probability here or wishes to enforce the principle of strict liability. I suggest the latter. Contador may well be innocent but he’s struggling to prove it, therefore WADA will want the jurisprudence tested at the CAS.

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