Contador corrections

There’s been plenty of coverage of Alberto Contador’s positive test and the ban, much of it in the mainstream media. Much is informative but some of this has run wild and ignored the intricacies of the case or the particulars of the procedure. For example today Le Monde, France’s establishment newspaper, ran an article with several mistakes. So here’s a quick primer on the facts.

  • Doper! WADA’s John Fahey has labelled Contador a “doping cheat” but that seems a harsh claim. He has been convicted of an anti-doping violation and sanctioned for the “Presence of a Prohibited Substance”. Was he doping? Nobody knows and the Court of Arbitration (CAS) simply ruled that the presence of a banned substance which cannot be explained invokes a two year ban.
  • It was a contaminated food supplement. Not really. The CAS stated it believed this was statistically more likely but did not reach any conclusion. Here’s the relevant bit:

    in light of all the evidence on record, the Athlete’s positive test for clenbuterol is more likely to have been caused by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement than by a blood transfusion or the ingestion of contaminated meat.

    Note the CAS is not making claims, just suggestions.

  • Only cyclists get this kind of treatment! There’s been talk of German table tennis players and Mexican soccer players being cleared but the poor cyclist gets done over. The difference is not sport nor nationality but of location. Clenbuterol contamination is far more prevalent in China, where the German visited and Mexico and so makes for a more probable source of artificial contamination. If Contador had, say, rode the Tour of Quinghai Lake and tested positive during this race then he’d likely have escaped a ban.
  • What if some South America beef was sneaked into the food chain in Spain? Quite possible but the WADA rules require the athlete to prove this. Here’s rule 295:

    To justify any elimination or reduction, the License-Holder must produce corroborating evidence in addition to his word which establishes to the comfortable satisfaction of the hearing panel the absence of an intent to enhance sport performance or mask the use of a performance enhancing substance

    What this says is that the only way to get out of a ban is to provide evidence to satisfy the panel. You can make claims about the probability of food contamination in certain countries to support the rogue steak hypothesis but you need to back it up with numbers to satisfy the panel.

  • Two years is excessive! The Le Monde article says the sanction is “beyond the norm given the infinitesimal traces detected” but their contributor has not read the rules. I agree the ban seems unjust but the WADA and UCI rules make no room for the quantity detected, the rules are blind to the amount of a banned substance. 50 picogrammes is the same as 50 grams or 50 yoctograms and this might seem absurd but the CAS isn’t there to opine on this, just to enforce the existing rules. Applying the rule that the athlete has to explain how they tested positive to escape a ban, we saw Contador unable to satisfy the CAS and so he gets the standard sanction. Harsh but the CAS had little choice. Perhaps a threshold is something for experts to review in the future but for now the rules don’t allow for it.
  • But he passed all the doping controls in the 2011 Giro? I hear you but again this is the rulebook talking and it says he forfeits all results from the date of the ban. The date itself is set at the time of the hearing in Spain that cleared him, the verdict which both the UCI and WADA took to appeal. Again it might seem injust but those are the rules and the CAS has little leeway here, it simply reads the rulebook.
  • Contador’s going to win the Vuelta. This seems like the most certain claim but anything can happen and time out from racing is a substantial handicap before competiting in a grand tour although his ban ends in time to compete in the Vuelta a Burgos. But his team still has to be invited and who knows what will happen between now and August, especially as he been called to testify in the Operation Puerto trial.

A few small pieces here but they’re worth dwelling on, especially when sections of the mainstream media seem prone to ignoring the context or rules. Most of the coverage has been fine but some examples stand out. Of course there is no universal truth here, feel free to correct my corrections.

Before the verdict I likened the case to the Japanese story Rashomon, a tale that recounts the death of a samurai from the perspective of several characters. Each one presents plausible accounts and motivations but after hearing the different accounts, we don’t know who is telling the truth. With Contador nobody knows what happened. The only certainty is that he tested positive and the rules imposed a two year ban.

25 thoughts on “Contador corrections”

  1. A good piece, just a comment on the “Only Cyclist get this kind of treatment” correct the differences is due to location, even cyclists with a positive test for Clenbuterol can escape a ban.

    Danish cyclist Philip Nielsen rode in 2010 a stage race in Mexico with his UCI continental team and was tested positive during the race for Clenbuterol and was in early 2011 found not guilty by the Danish cycling federation and this was not appealed by neither the UCI or WADA so the possibility to escape a ban when there are proven facts for contaminated foods also cyclist get a fair chance to go free

  2. Nicely written! For me the most interesting result was this -
    After hearing the wailing from fans of Il Pistolero that rivaled only the shouting of the fans of BigTex as a man unfairly accused – the Spanish anti-doping folks FINALLY seem to be “getting the picture” as they say. Whether this will result in more of the Puerto participants names being released and details forwarded to WADA is of course unknown, but it would be a start on their road to credibility.

  3. Damn you inrng! Stop using facts and context when we all know good sports journalism is based on rumour, gossip and strong scotch.

    Actually, I would love one of your balanced and sober comments on why Contador gets a backdated penalty that enables him to compete in this years Vuelta when poor old Germanic PouPou Ullrich gets two years ahead of him in which he can’t even ride his bike to the corner shop for sweets..and he’s been retired for five… What gives ?

  4. Very good piece.
    I still think it needs to be said that Contador’s defence was very poor (and it’s said it cost him a million): the steak theory was never believable to begin with, and it couldn’t be proved.
    Contador’s line of defence should have been that the infinitesimal amount of clembuterol found in his body evidenced neither performance-enhancement nor any health hazard, therefore it was not doping, and if the WADA Codex said the contrary, well then, too bad for the WADA Codex. He should have aimed directly at the WADA Codex itself, and not ask the CAS to apply it in a favourable way, but squarely demand of the CAS to disown the parts of the Codex that proved to be wrong.

  5. Thanks for keeping the nuance and details of the investigation at the front. I’m am definitely not a fan of Contador, but I still think it’s important to know what he was actually found guilty of, and to not just say he was found guilty of doping. It’s not that simple. To be frank I’m also glad the same rules that applied to Tom Zirbel a few years back (with his seemingly accidental ingestion of a banned substance) apply to one of the highest profile riders in the world.

  6. Thanks inrng. Many questions arises from your comment about the Vuelta – “his team still needs to be invited”. What do you know about Saxo Bank’s ProTour status? Do the Vuelta organisers have the discretion to not invite a ProTour team (although I recall Astana was dis-invited from the TdF)? Will Saxo Bank remain as a ProTour team? Will Saxo Bank re-contract Contador? Will the Vuelta organisers invite any team that Contador might join (because he’s such a drawcard & national hero)?
    Bundle – please don’t act for my defence. The UCI/WADA rules (what’s a codex?) make no allowance for any threshold amount of clenbuterol. inrng’s 5th point expands on that very well. The only defence is proof of absence of intent – rule 295 – which is also covered well in point 4 above.

  7. I, too, enjoyed your treatment/re-statement of the facts, INRG. Thanks. I remain confused, though, about the specific two-year period to which the ban may be applied. Without have researched the issue, it appears to me that that is largely at the discretion of the relevant reviewing panel, no? In fact, Contador’s ban runs from the date of the odd-to-me, “provisional” – I think it’s called – ruling by the Spanish federation (which didn’t clear AC but suggested a one-year ban) instead of that body’s final, contrary ruling a week or two later. I still haven’t been able to make sense of the CAS’s reasoning there, but then I haven’t read the CAS ruling either. As a matter of logic (?), though, why not date it from the time of the REFC’s final ruling (the decision that was being appealed, after all) and give AC another couple of weeks for “time served.” Or date it from the time of the CAS’s own ruling and let Contador keep his “clean” results earned in the meantime/after being cleared by the REFC.

    And hang on, Bundle. As I understand it, the CAS is not a legislative body, it has zero authority to establish the rules. It’s merely a finder of fact and applier of the existing rules, ie, a judicial body. (Remember civics class: executive, legislative, judicial.) Anything more on the part of the CAS would be – as it’s put in legal terms – ultra vires. In the case of such an “off the ranch” ruling by CAS, WADA would surely appeal to the Swiss federal supreme court, and that court of law would very likely rule that the CAS had erred in acting beyond its authority.

  8. Nice article. Why so shy about calling him a doper though? Being ‘convicted of a doping violation’ makes one a doper, by definition. Do you draw the same distinction when considering a driver convicted of DUI – is he not a ‘drunk driver’?

  9. Ulrik Møberg: thanks, interesting case.

    Higgins: that’s what the rules request, Contador’s ban dates from his hearing and Ullrich’s ban too, here is the CAS on Ullrich’s ban:
    “This Panel, however, is of the view that – in principle – the period of ineligibility should only start to run from such hearing date on which a first instance panel looked into the substance of the alleged doping offence. This hearing date is the one that took place on 22 August, 2011”

    sillyoldbugger: if Saxo lose their licence they will most likely get “Pro Continental” status and then be eligible for an invitation to the Vuelta. But we do not know what could happen if the sponsor gets cold feet etc.

    Bundle: yes, he looks to have been very badly advised here, spending a fortune a defence that achieved nothing, except for a huge total of billable hours.

    velopoint: that’s just what the rules say, the ban is from the date of the hearing.

    gkeller: if only because the quantities are so small the CAS ruling does not state doping. If he was taking clenbuterol the small amount is meaningless for performance. The UCI and WADA said this could be from a contaminated blood sample used in blood doping and pushed this hypothesis, claiming contamination from plasticisers too. But the CAS said this was only a hypothesis. The ruling does not state any doping.

  10. Actually it does: “the CAS has partially upheld the appeals filed by WADA and the UCI and has found Alberto Contador guilty of a doping offence.”

  11. This is perhaps some poor phrasing : “It was a contaminated food supplement. No it wasn’t.”

    When you make a statement of fact like “No it wasn’t” you are saying there is absolutely zero chance is was a contaminated food supplement. This is as logically incorrect as definitively stating is was a contaminated food supplement. Further your phrasing is contrary to the CAS statement to which you immediately allude. Perhaps you should have said “Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. We simply don’t know.”

  12. @velopoint: that would leave Contador in an interesting position. He could claim defencelessness with regard to the WADA Codex, in a situation where WADA, in its almighty wisdom, could do whatever they want with the rules, like they did with the tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) case in 2004 (when they suddenly changed the definition of doping to include this substance although it wasn’t proved to be performance-enhancing). Besides, the CAS is not only concerned with anti-doping, it must also deal with commercial and labour law and implications. National (Danish, Spanish, French) labour rights could apply, and the fact the riders sign up to a Code of Conduct could be considered ineffectual, because in practice they have no choice but to sign up to it.

  13. Enough is enough! Q: Who is the best to judge a singer? A: A blind person. So close your eyes and judge Contador on fact prior to personal feelings/interests: GUILTY!

    Riis, once again, bought the cat in the sack! Unlucky or just one more standard selection of high profile riders with risky behavior…? No need to line up the exquisite gallery of former crooks he picked. This last event in mind I can’t help thinking that The Pro Cycling Circus has turned into a closed circuit of semi intelligent people with big hearts for cycling and small brains for business. They are simply running down the sport – on a professional level.

    And the very few intelligent people who have tried their luck in the line of business at CEO level have all been wiped out in the hours of darkness by sneaky fuckers back wheel bandits like Bruyneel even before the printing ink on the business cards was dry.

    Inbreeding in cycling management and the willingness to make throughout changes in all aspects has become a major problem alongside the ever young ghost of doping, as most recruitment, on both sides of the table, seems to be based on cycling knowledge as to the ability and skills to create and run businesses. It is like a very bad virus from which you will die – so start making changes or go looking for a coffin.

    Pro cycling has become a joke!

    El Gato de La Cala, 25 yrs of riding and racing my bike and soon to have had enough.

  14. Inrng, I have to agree with Gkeller in that I am a bit surprised you are shying away from simply staying that Contador is a doper. In other posts you appear quite supportive of the WADA strict liability rules. Yet, once applied, you seem to be wavering, talking about quantities and adjusted penalties.

    Pro cyclists are certainly not ignorant of the rigors of cycling’s doping controls. On top of that there is enough precedent with this specific substance that it is inexcusable for riders not to maintain a log of the products they consume.

    There are only two plausible reasons that Contador couldn’t identify a tainted food source: (1) he didn’t ingest tainted food or (2) he couldn’t tell anyone where the tainted food came from because he ate it earlier in the year and his defense would have proved the blood doping allegations. Either way, he violated the doping rules, got caught, and got a ban. It’s time to call a spade a spade-Contador is now officially a doper.

  15. El Gato wrote – ” closed circuit of semi intelligent people with big hearts for cycling and small brains for business. ” I think the real problem is the REVERSE, if these folks truly cared about cycling and sport they wouldn’t be cheating. The business/money end of it is what drives many of them into breaking the rules. Mr. Vroomen pointed out on his blog this particular doping mess has still netted those involved plenty of benefits – Mr. 60%’s team is in the World Tour while the profits from endorsements reaped by Il Pistolero are still his to keep and he’s really only serving a ban of 6 months before he can race again. I wont’ be looking for any apologies from any of these folks – they knew exactly what they were doing, though of course a small mistake WAS made in assuming no lab could detect such a small amount of the banned substance. They’ll be MUCH more careful in the future but I doubt the doping will simply stop.

  16. Inrng, how could he be more outspoken given the facts of his case? If he came out aggressively and swore he hadn’t doped, he would look like LA and nobody would believe him. If he admits to doping, people will speculate as to when it started and use his prior dominance to build a circumstantial case that he’s been doping his whole career, destroying his legacy (well, not destroying, he’ll simply live on in infamy). Especially given that the substance at issue is clenbuterol, I think he’s doing the only thing he can: keeping his head down and taking his ban in stride.

    Also, pointing out that he tested positive and then questioning whether he was doping creates an illusory distinction. The only way you get a ban for clenbuterol is if you can’t explain where it came from and the only way you can’t explain where it came from given the resources Contador threw at this case is if you were intentionally ingesting the stuff for some reason.

  17. Regarding the point about excessive punishment, I haven’t read the rules but it seems surprising that the rulebook does not allow for extenuating circumstances. Most national level laws proscribe a maximum punishment, not a standard one. Also, at the national level, courts are allowed to strike down laws deemed “unconstitutional”. Here we seem to be putting all our faith in the righteousness of the lawmakers.

  18. There’s another statement in the CAS report that seems as clear as the CAS conclusion to me. Blood doping happens. Ricci. If you transfuse, artificial ‘plasicisers’ – chemicals from the plastic bag can get into the bloodstream. CAS report, Page 25 – last paragraph. WADA deposition: the existence of a high concentration of phthalates in Contador’s blood was consistent with transfusion (…and little else?). WADA were pretty convinced. Who cares exactly what he was doing – its pretty damning evidence that he was cheating. Unlucky for him he got caught.

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