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No change for Contador


This week has seen WADA drop its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over the case of several Mexican soccer players who tested positive for clenbuterol but were not sanctioned by their federation. WADA also dropped its pursuit of Danish rider Philip Nielsen too. These two cases involve athletes and positive tests for clenbuterol so many are making a link to upcoming CAS hearings concerning Alberto Contador’s positive for clenbuterol. But I’d suggest caution here as the cases are quite different.

First the obvious point is that WADA might have dropped two appeals this week but it’s continuing with its appeal of the verdict by the Spanish Federation (RFEC).

Next the reason why WADA has withdrawn its two appeals is because of evidence of widespread meat contamination in Mexico. As I’ve outlined before the rules require Contador to prove where the clenbuterol came from. Given a lot of meat is reared with clenbuterol in Mexico it is quite probable that someone visiting Mexico can test positive for clenbuterol and they can suggest eating contaminated pork or beef as a probable source. The same was true for the recent Tour of Beijing were some riders were advised not to eat pork and beef.

But the story is quite different for Contador who did not visit Mexico, China or another country at risk just before his samples were taken. He was busy racing in the Tour de France. No other rider has come up positive, indeed I don’t think any other athletes have cited European meat as a source of contamination for clenbuterol.

This isn’t to say Contador’s hypothesis of a rogue steak is wrong, simply that the probability of contamination is far higher in Mexico than in Europe. Bad meat is a reasonable explanation for a positive test for a Mexican. But there are no widespread public health concerns in Spain or France. WADA’s rules on strict liability require Contador to prove where the contamination came from and his hypothesis could be correct but there is less evidence to support it.

WADA might have dropped two appeals but these two cases share a probable source of contamination in Mexico. European food safety standards reduce the likelihood of this happening. WADA’s actions this week say more about Mexico than Contador’s appeal.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Henrik Olsen Thursday, 13 October 2011, 8:26 pm

    Just a small correction, Philip Nielsen’s main focus used to be on the track not mountain biking.

  • The Inner Ring Thursday, 13 October 2011, 8:32 pm

    Henrik: thanks, I’ve fixed it.

    On the subject of corrections somebody emailed me to say “you’ll hate it but I feel I should point out a mistake”. On the contrary, I’m keen to correct things. Please get in touch via the comments or email with any corrections, it’s very helpful.

  • Gadi Thursday, 13 October 2011, 8:42 pm

    Dear Inrng,
    One has to recall few things regarding the subject:
    First, the Mexican soccer players didn’t prove their point, neither did Philip Nielsen- the only thing that was proven is that they were all found with traces of Clen., not to mention the amount of the Clen. found – surely the amount was different (their sample was not sent to the ‘so advanced lab’).
    Were any other riders tested in the same day in the same lab like was AC (with the same equipment)?
    Now its too late for the WADA (and UCI…) to withdraw, it would b just too much for all parties involved (and money put in…).

  • James Thursday, 13 October 2011, 11:59 pm

    Well then I am happy to oblige with a mistake
    “Europle”? End of first sentence in the 2nd last paragraph 🙂

  • Kasper Friday, 14 October 2011, 12:06 pm

    I haven’t quite yet understood how the clenbuterol could indicate doping? Is clenbuterol a doping product itself, or are the traces of clenbuterol left overs from using EPO or bloodtransfusions?

    As I understand the amount that was found in Contador is so small that it wouldn’t have had any effect?

  • Velo Peloton Friday, 14 October 2011, 1:41 pm

    There is plenty of beef available in Europe that has come from Brasil and Argentina where it is common to use growth promoters. I think the suggestion by Contador is that the beef was from South America. Given that he was clean the day before and the day after and that the amount is so small it is almost certain that it was contamination. The question is what is the source? Is it beef or the result of some other doping practice. Personally, not being an expert I don’t know, but my feeling is that they will not be able to prove doping and he will be cleared as he was by the Spanish Federation. I also think that the allegations of political interference in the Spanish decision is overstated. I know in my own country that statements by politicians like that would be treated with derision.

  • The Inner Ring Friday, 14 October 2011, 1:48 pm

    Velo Peloton: note was positive four times for clenbuterol, each time after the original rest day test. Yhe rules state that when a rider tests positive they have to prove it was from an innocent source rather than the anti-doping agency proving it came from doping. Regarding the politicians, to summarise the Spanish federation did say in its report that it proposed a ban… but this gave rise to comments from politicians and judges… and then the proposal was dropped. It is all quite complicated and this is why the case has rumbled on for so long. Regardless of the outcome it will be good to hear the CAS’s view of the evidence and its verdict.

  • Tom from Raleigh Friday, 14 October 2011, 4:48 pm


    The story was spread from an unnamed source on the Astana team that Contador used clenbuterol prior to the Tour and it was present in his blood as a result of a doping “treatment”.


    While some may see this as hard to believe, I find much more plausible than this level of clenbuterol coming from steak.

  • Ken Friday, 14 October 2011, 7:14 pm

    Perhaps my facts are wrong, but it is my understanding that: (1) levels found in Contador were far below those of any known clinical use of clenbuterol; (2) tests before and after the positive test were negative, indicating the positive low value was not the tail end of an earlier higher dosage; and (3) nobody has shown how using clenbuterol in the extremely low levels found in Contador would help an athlete. What’s left? The odd piece of contaminated meat. European food is carefully monitored, but no system is perfect.

  • Guadzilla Friday, 14 October 2011, 8:43 pm

    And more importantly, it isnt as if Contador needs to worry about losing weight in January – so why would he ever use clenbuterol?

  • OJT Friday, 14 October 2011, 11:03 pm

    Great analysis. It would have been terrible for WADA if they had lost some clen rulings right before the Contador CAS case. So they have dropped the cases – as you point out, they were flimsier than the Contador fact pattern and involved lesser-known athletes. Solid strategy.