Mosquera on standby


Ezequiel Mosquera is a Spanish cyclist who finished second in the 2010 Vuelta a España. A climber, he took the stage win on the Bola del Mundo climb and he made the move from the modest Xacobeo squad to the big Vacansoleil squad. Certainly that’s how he’d like to be known.

But things have turned out differently. Mosquera was, like Riccardo Riccò, hired by Vacansoleil in part because of his giant points haul, the Dutch team was busy trying to secure a UCI ProTeam licence. But disaster struck and Mosquera was suspended after anti-doping controls showed both he and then team mate David Garcia Da Peña had tested positive for hydroxyethyl starch (HES) in the Vuelta. Garcia also tested positive for EPO and was subsequently banned.

Mosquera on the other hand remained suspended. HES is only a banned substance when injected intravenously. Here it can be used as a masking agent, specifically because it inhibits the excretion of banned substances. Put simply it keeps EPO out of your urine, it allows a doping athlete to foil the urine test for EPO.

Beyond cheating, HES is more commonly used “blood volume expander”, often for patients suffering big blood loss, and its use could also fall under the “prohibited method” of blood doping. But the authorities have been faced with having to prove either the intravenous use of HES or the manipulation of blood.

Voluven, a commercial name for HES

Mosquera has stated in a press release that he’s been tested many times and only HES appeared, that the WADA-accredited eagle-eyed lab in Cologne that caused Contador sleepless nights didn’t pick-up any EPO. He says “scientific studies show that Hydroxyethyl starch doesn’t allow to improve the sportive performance” and that “Hydroxyethyl starch isn’t forbidden in case of intramuscularly or oral intake“. For all the talk about this subject – he even touches on its chemistry in the press release – Mosquera implicitly admits the HES was there but there’s no explanation of how it got there.

Now the rider could go to the Vuelta. He has been suspended by his team all year pending the unresolved case. But it seems the case could be closed given there’s no satisfactory resolution.

The rider might be on standby and waiting for the case to be dropped but nobody is any closer to the truth. It feels like all sides – the rider, the team, the Spanish anti-doping authorities – are planning to drop the matter. Mosquera still has plenty to explain.

24 thoughts on “Mosquera on standby”

  1. So he claims that he took HES as a blood volume expander, isn’t he cheating even then? Given that there are regular doping controls in cycling, UCI and local bodies should have done more to ensure speedy resolution of the cases. The current system needs a major overhaul if we’ve to stop such cases from recurring.

  2. Typo fixed, thanks.

    Neil: it’s not so much the nationality it’s that nobody wants to get to the truth here, or at least it seems several have an interest in dropping the case.

    Ankush: yes, it’s difficult. It’s just gone on and on. If there’s no evidence, why has the team suspended him? It feels like different treatment for different cases; maybe that’s appropriate but no new facts seem to have emerged during this year.

  3. “why has the team suspended him?”

    Because they wanted to be sure ASO would let them start in the Tour?
    I think they fearded that if they let Mosquera ride, ASO could use this as an argument to keep them out of the Tour. They didn’t want to risk that, so they suspended him.

  4. Another loophole in the system. If intra-venous intake cannot be proved by urine tests, why on earth aren’t we looking at his blood tests (there must be samples of those days anyway, for the biologic passport). If the means of introduction of this starch cannot be proved at all, why make the difference in the code, and not either ban the substance altogether, regardless of whether it was injected, eaten or sniffed, or else allow it. Mosquera was obviously loaded, but let’s remember that the limit to what riders will take is, in practice, not what is written in the codes, but more precisely what the labs can prove. And that they will go to those limits, they always have and always will, is as sure as the fact that a footballer will score with his hand if he is sure the referee won’t catch him.

  5. If they haven’t been able to charge him yet, I guess that they have nothing solid enough on him… and he has already lost a season. Let’s not go back to the OP blacklists, that didn’t do any good.

  6. This seems to be a continuation of the shift in cases that if an athlete has a banned substance in there system it is up to authorities to prove its was there deliberately and for no good.

    Both in this case and Contador’s it seems to hinge on the premise that the athlete is innocent until proven guilty. In the past a positive test was proof of guilt.

    Personally I think it is correct way to go about it not all cases are created equal and some are much more clear cut than others. I think the problem is that these cases are taking to long to resolve and any rule changes that are needed to close the loopholes are taking to long (they don’t need to wait for CAS outcomes to amend the rules)

  7. Why does it take a year to reach this point, what are the stages along the way?

    And can Mosquera give any credible reason why this substance was found in his samples. It’s one thing to be able to ride but given his team mate had EPO and this “HES” product, I’d bet my house he was doping.

  8. I still believe that you should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but in this case it seems that his innoncence could hinge on a technicality – the way in which a substance makes its way into the body – and not on evidence and this makes a mockery of the whole process. If there’s no other reason for that substance to be there other than as a masking agent, then surely that’s a smoking gun and he should serve a ban?

  9. I’m going to make a big run for the Tour next year.

    *Bring bring*

    “Hello, Señor Carlos? I’m interested in taking up citizenship of your country such that I may represent you in an elite sporting capacity”


  10. 1.Mosquera had the chance that no EPO was found in his A-sample.To detect EPO remains a difficult task:there must at least 80% basis isoforms.Many sportsmen have been cleared these years with perhaps 70% basic isoforms (LA in Swiss Tour in 2001?).That’s why Mosquera refuse to have his B-sample analysed.2.Where have you (or Mosquera) seen that HES was only forbidden intravenously?AMA doesn’t differentiate the routes of interdiction.Is there not a confusion with Actovegin?It’s impossible to take a blood plasma expander and masking agent by oral route:it would have digested by stomach acidity (like pasta!) and would have not been found in blood.HES can be only administered intravenously if we desire its action.3.SEStide (HEMOMER) a mimetic peptide of EPO is linked to HES.We can suppose that Mosquera has used it on the Vuelta.4.HES is a specified substance:if Mosquera can prove how it entered his body without wanting it, he can only just have a warning.We can wonder why AMA has put the masking agent in specified substance because they often are with blood doping.

  11. I went online to find the original news articles about the positive test because it’s important to know if they got both urine and blood samples simultaneously. The HES positive was from his urine. I can’t find any further details. The other rider (Garcia) also subsequently tested positive for EPO, either from blood taken at the same time or shortly thereafter. Garcia’s EPO positive had to be from a blood sample. This is important. If they did not get a blood sample from Mosquera either then or in the next several hours, they cannot show several things. HES artificially expands blood volume, so that an hematocrit higher than 50% (illegal) will drop below 50% and the rider gets a pass on that count, if that’s all they look at. But HES does not chemically interfere with a testing lab’s ability to infer the use of EPO. The body makes its’ own EPO, which is slightly different chemically from the artificial stuff. I understand that there is a legal requirement that the ratios of the different isoforms have to meet a certain standard? Is this right? According to Marc above. If they don’t have a blood sample on Mosquera, or if they do have a blood sample, but can show neither too high a hematocrit nor a suspicious ratio of EPO isoforms, then this is probably what has stalled the case. The HES, all by itself is not enough. If anyone knows where there is more complete information online re: his positive, I would sure like to read it in full.

  12. At the end of the day – either it can be proven that Mosquera has illegally ‘doped’, or it cannot. If WADA or anyother authority cannot mount a provable case, then Mosquera should be allowed to ride on.

    I won’t cheer or barrack for cyclist who are ‘suspicious’. But you can’t place a long-term ban on someone because of ‘suspicion’ or ‘innuendo’. Either charge him and prove it, or let him ride. These long, drawn out bans where nothing is proven are just annoying and frustraing, and make a laughing stock of the ‘justice system’.

  13. The WADA list says:
    “Masking agents are prohibited. They include:
    •plasma expanders (e.g. glycerol; intravenous administration of albumin, dextran, hydroxyethyl starch and mannitol)
    and other substances with similar biological effect(s)”.

    Now, if it specificies the way of administration of HES, there must surely exist another way to administer it (if there isn’t, at least the drafting skills of those who wrote this would be in question).

  14. Hydroxyethyl starch is only given intravenously. It would be digested and probably undetectable in the blood if given by mouth. That list of things following “intravenous administration” are all only given IV. I think the way that rule is intended to be understood is that plasma expanders are illegal (for the reasons delineated above, they lower hematocrit) and that the parenthetical reference is just giving examples.

  15. To reply to Bundle:”Intravenous administration of hydroxyethylstarch…”: Wada writes this because HES only exists in this form of administration.It doesn’t mean that other routes are permitted (as Wada specifies it for Actovegin).It would have been totally silly (and unuseful) to try HES by intramuscular route.And to drink it for rehydratation would have been less efficient than an isotonic solution.

  16. Thank you Marc and Nathan. The norm, then, could benefit from a clarifying rewriting. But I’d really like to know why the guy hasn’t been asked officially to explain how and what for the substance got there, how on earth it took 7 months for the UCI to pass the file on to the Spanish Federation, and what the latter has been doing about it in the last 3 months, and when they will reform the code in order to centralize and time-limit the proceedings for doping offences.

  17. Went online some more to PubMed and elsewhere; interesting stuff, if you just look at it all academically. Which we don’t. Turns out HES can be detected in urine, but it requires a laborious 25-fold concentration of the urine first, and the entire immunoassay takes ~3 days. Testing in blood is more direct and faster, much more desireable. HES makes you stop “going” for awhile. The plasma expansion can only happen because you get thirsty and drink and retain the fluid. ( That extra blood volume has to come from somewhere.) But only for awhile. As you excrete the HES, you also start to excrete the EPO, if it’s there. It must be a matter of exactly the right timing of the sample you get from the cyclist. Timing was just right (wrong) for Garcia, but more problematic for Mosquera. Guessing here. Sometimes they take blood, sometimes both urine and blood, sometimes just urine. These guys really gamble it all, don’t they? Inner Ring has explained before about banned substances vs. proscribed substances. I think. Don’t remember the difference. Anyone?

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