Óscar Sevilla’s trauma


At the start of his pro career many found Óscar Sevilla so fresh-faced they wondered if he was a junior. Now just days from his 35th birthday, his image is less angelic and it’s not just the passage of time. Yesterday he was given a six month ban by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) for a doping offence.

A positive test occurred 13 months ago in the Vuelta a Colombia but it’s not been a black and white story.  The  substance detected in his sample was hydroxyethyl starch (HES). HES is only a banned substance when injected intravenously as it can be used as a masking agent, specifically because it inhibits the excretion of banned substances: put simply it could EPO out of your urine. Outside of doping it 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 are faced with having to prove either the intravenous use or the manipulation of blood.

The most interesting element in Sevilla’s case is that he didn’t decided to tough it out and say “prove it” to the prosecutors. Instead he freely admitted to using HES for what his Gobernacion De Antioquia team call “urgent medical treatment”.

Now this gets odd because he was caught on the last day of the Vuelta a Colombia and if you need HES for medical treatment you are undergoing major surgery or have suffered dire injuries, you’re not riding a bike. Here’s Wikipedia on the subject:

an intravenous solution of hydroxyethyl starch is used to prevent shock following severe blood loss caused by trauma, surgery, or some other problem

If Oscar Sevilla needed HES in the middle of a stage race then surely he must have suffered horrific injuries during the race or undergone major surgery overnight? Only this was never reported and all we know is that he was healthy enough to win a time trial on the day.

There’s been no further statement from the RFEC but if he needed such urgent medical treatment then why ban him? But above all, what assurances did the RFEC get on his medical condition. If this banned substance was needed, where was the Therapeutic Use Exemption document (post-dated versions are acceptable for medical emergencies)? If no adequate explanation for HES exists then six months is probably not enough. And why did this take 13 months? We’re left with more questions than before.

Enemy action?
Two other Spaniards tested positive for HES around this time but never reported a medical incident. David Garcia Da Peña got banned after he tested positive for EPO but HES was found. His team mate Ezequiel Mosquera is still in limbo after HES was found in his urine too but no EPO. “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is Enemy Action” wrote Iam Fleming in a James Bond novel.

10 thoughts on “Óscar Sevilla’s trauma”

  1. Was this the stuff you were supposed to put on your hands, then pee on ’em as you filled the sample bottles so you wouldn’t trip the dope-o-meter? Otherwise, maybe lil’ Oscar was transfusing some blood and lost/spilled a large quantity, making this lifesaving stuff necessary? Either way he’s getting a vacation from the sport, though with his past history he oughta be facing a lifetime ban. There still must be a whole lot of people getting away with this kind of crap, otherwise you’d think they’d learn their lesson once nabbed and sanctioned.

  2. Hextend or Hetastarch, its used when you have already infused Normal Saline but still need a volume expander. The starch molecules keep fluid in the bloodstream but serve no oxygen carrying purpose. Would, as you stated, be used in cases of extreme blood loss such as major trauma or surgery with unexpected blood loss. At least this is the medical use….

  3. I’d like to think/hope the new generation of cyclists are cleaner than their predecessors; however, it’s hard for me to remain optimistic when Gobernación, who dominated the Tour of Utah, would sign a known cheat like Sevilla to such a young and impressionable team.

  4. I have never understood why UCI and national cycling federations have written rules and regulations because they seldom act according to them. Are the loopholes in the rulebook Verbruggen’s legacy?

  5. I don’t think HES actually masks EPO tests in blood or urine. Instead it is used to dilute the red-cells in the circulation and temporarily reduce the haematocrit. So it hides the results of EPO and transfusion.

    HES, like Haemacell, Gelofusin & other intravenous “plasma expanders” stays in the circulation for a longer period of time than straight saline. So if you wish to reduce your haematocrit for 2-8 hours it would be better than saline, which only stays in the circulation 30-60 miuntes (if that). Note that these are intravenous, you cannot drink HES and get it into the circulation.

    Saline is really only any good if the testers arrive at your hotel and you have 20 minutes before you have to be tested – the old bag of IV fluids on the coat-hanger ritual…

    If a cyclist has just received a transfusion or overshot on their EPO microdosing, and is worried about a test sometime between getting out of the shower (when the tester is being delayed by your DS in the lounge-room) and the next morning before their TT, then a plasma-expander would be the ideal diluent – lasts a while, but allows your haematocrit to increase again by the time you are racing.

    Other contributors are absolutely correct that it is a nonsense to infer that you have received HES as part of some “urgent medical treatment” that is incidental and not carefully recorded. It would only be used by paramedics or medical staff if you are being attended/transported to a trauma centre after a crash that everyone would know about. It would not even be used by the team doctor as a rehydration fluid because it is intravenous and there are allergic and other adverse reactions – they would use saline if anything, and it would still be against regulations.

  6. Thanks for the clarification about the masking properties; since Mosquera’s A sample “non negative” he has said it does not mask EPO but thanks for confirming this is something used in major surgery, for the emergency room.

  7. Thanks enuffsaid, very informative post! I remember rumors years ago about Nelson Rodriguez or “Cacaito” as he was known. The story was he was pumped full of saline so many time (amongst gawd knows what other treatments) that his career was cut short — as his health was terribly impaired. I understood how a rider could quickly be given saline to pass the hematocrit tests but wondered how the hell they could then jump on a bike a few hours later and perform? Now I know, thanks. And folks wonder why the dope-testers must depend on the element of surprise with the out-of-competition dope tests? The infamous shower caper with BigTex made me laugh when it happened, figuring there was some scheme afoot, the recent press about the whole team only makes it seem obvious that something was indeed up.

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