Gonzalez Goes To Trial, Questions For Quintana

Nairo Quintana’s doctor is to face trial this September following police raids at the 2020 Tour de France.

You might have seen the headlines but Breton newspaper Le Télégramme broke the story and has a lot of detail that is not elsewhere thanks to an article by their journalist Jean Saint-Marc. It’s behind a paywall and a lot of the coverage in English and more on the story has come from the free but brief AFP newswire story that confirms the trial date, outlets have padded their pieces out with summaries of Quintana’s tramadol case rather than the detail covered by Le Télégramme. But it’s worth subscribing to the paper and exploring the Télégramme article as it has a lot more detail…

Remember the 2020 Tour de France and the OCLAESP police raids in the third week that saw Nairo Quintana and his entourage searched, and even a few days’ detention for his personal doctor Fredy Gonzalez? It was a long time ago and the trail seemed to have gone cold, the case closed. But Le Télégramme broke the story yesterday, since confirmed by newswire service AFP, that Dr Gonzalez will stand trial in September on charges of [my translation]:

  • “possession of a banned substance or method for use by an athlete without medical grounds”
  • “administering or applying to an athlete, in this case Nairo and Dayer Quintana, without medical grounds, a banned substance or method during the course of a sports event”

Among the items found were pouches of saline solution and a tourniquet, on which Le Télégramme says there is DNA from both Dr Gonzalez and the Quintana brothers, presumably they were swabbed for DNA when questioned by police at the end of the 2020 Tour de France.

“We’re not talking about a first aid kit” someone close to the case told Le Télégramme. But the issue for the pending trial is what is illegal. Possessing pouches, or even barrels, of saline solution is not a crime. But it can be in breach of the rules if they are administered intravenously to riders during the course of an event. For starters for rehydration it could be a breach of the UCI’s “No Needles” policy which does allow for infusions but only when there is no alternative and only if the UCI is informed within 24 hours, so if Dr Gonzalez didn’t tell the UCI at the time there’s a small sanction but we’re talking days rather than career-ending.

However saline solution can also be used in the context of blood doping, to manipulate blood values, it can be used to mask urine test results or “flush out” prohibited substances from the body quicker. For these reasons its use – not possession – is on the Prohibited List, as in a banned method. Here’s a screengrab from the WADA Prohibited List (my highlighting):

Note what’s crucial here is the quantity. A small infusion of saline could trip the UCI No Needle policy. But over 100ml in 12 hours and it’s a potential anti-doping case. Here Le Télégramme reports [translated] “On this last point [the quantity] there’s no doubt, according to our sources, given the size of the pouches found” but reports at the time said 100ml was seized, only more than this would be incriminating under the WADA rules.

Still finding a jumbo saline pack does not equate to breaking the rules, the prosecutor in the trial will have to try and prove the link this September. Even an empty pouch doesn’t mean it was all infused. We’ll have to wait for the trial and viewed right now it’s not obvious that Dr Gonzalez would even want to fly to France to face trial.

Nairo and Dayer Quintana are not on trial because doping itself is not criminalised in France, instead possession and administration are. However Le Télégramme also reports the details have been passed to “the sporting authorities” (presumably France’s anti-doping agency the AFLD and cycling’s governing body the UCI) so that they can pursue the case.

The Arkéa team said Quintana’s entourage acted “in isolation” and team manager Emmanuel Hubert told the paper “one person alone will be judged. The team isn’t incriminated”. Legally-speaking that’s right but it evokes questions of management and oversight all the same.

First a “chapeau” to Jean Saint-Marc at Le Télégramme for breaking the story. His newspaper is often an excellent source of cycling news, after all it is in Brittany, arguably the cycling hotbed in France. Anyway there’s more detail in there that is worth reading… and sharing and I wanted to accompany this with snippets of the rules in place too.

The trial is slated for September. It’s taken so long that it won’t be a surprise if it is delayed or adjourned further and you wonder if Dr Gonzalez will want to take part given he risks jail, although there is an extradition treaty between France and Colombia. The law is interesting though as it can compel witnesses, including the Quintana brothers.

Also the court case is one thing, but the details have been passed to the sports authorities who can investigate whether there have been breaches of the anti-doping rules. Here Quintana risks big because the tariff goes up to a four year ban and he’d be at risk of forfeiting all this results since September 2020 which in turn contributed to Arkéa-Samsic’s promotion to the World Tour although just as the UCI might may wish to ask more questions it could equally review the evidence and conclude there’s no case to investigate, there might even be a note from Dr Gonzalez to clear the “No Needle” policy. But we don’t know which way this will go yet and if Quintana started this year back in the peloton hoping to put the Tramadol case behind him now there’s something bigger on the horizon.

20 thoughts on “Gonzalez Goes To Trial, Questions For Quintana”

  1. It is a shame, but certain;y no surprise after all that has gone before, lessons still need to be learned by some members of the WT peloton and their support staff.

    • Hard to know, from the sounds of the article the case going to trial is a story they’ve been working on for more than this week but it’s about Gonzalez rather than Quintana. Both he and his agent would say “oh that, we’ve heard nothing for years”.

  2. If Quintana’s results were voided & therefore Arkea-Samsic lost the points that got them into the World Tour then what could actually be done about it? It’s not like simply taking an Olympic or World title away from someone who’s been caught doping. I suppose they could be demoted for 2025 but they would have already had 2 years as a World Tour team & removing all the results their other riders got during those 2 years seems very unfair on them, while unpicking which results they could have got as a Pro team & which they couldn’t have would be incredibly complicated.

    • Not that consistency has a lot to do with UCI decision making, but surely the right answer is for an individual conviction, only the titles should be taken away. But if the team’s processes and protocols were held to be at fault, that should also result in a deduction of the team’s points.

      inrng will doubtless now screenshot the small print of the rules and prove the above to be utterly inaccurate.

    • First there’s no known open anti-doping case for Quintana. So it’s speculative if one happens, if there’s a verdict and so on.

      But the World Tour licence hypothetical is easier to explore. For starters we know the difference between promotion (Arkéa-Samsic) and relegation (Lotto-Dstny) was ~about 800 points. Quintana meanwhile scored more than this between September 2020 and the end of the 2022 season. So no Quintana, no promotion. But if he were to forfeit this points, the team can’t be relegated nor Lotto-Dstny put back in the World Tour, we can’t go back and correct previous years and there’s no provision in the rules for this to adjust for this season or next. But lawyers could plead a good case, there are arguments for it, but would anyone bring this case? The Belgian team want promotion but we can see they’ve turned down Giro invite this year so they don’t want the whole World Tour this year either.

  3. I haven’t read the article in L Télègrsmme, only this one. So I might lack some info.

    But three and a half years later the prosecutor is now sure that the tourniquet they found has traces of DNA of the Quintana brothers. Which seems to be the center point of the indiction, right? That Doc Gonzalez used said tourniquet on them for … . For what exactly? Those are also used for taking blood samples. Which might have happened during the race or in training before the race.

    I get all the suspicions which could result from thiose findings, but I think at this point it’s just that, a story about suspicions.

    Do we never learn? Can’t we just wait for the result of that trial and then report about what was found to be proven reality?

    I don’t say that the Quintanaa didn’t do anything against the rules. Because I as everyone else don’t know.
    What is happening now though is creating a huge cloud of suspicion over him and basically killing his career. And putting both, his old and current team under public pressure.
    Will anyone come up and apologize to them and compensate them for the economical damage this story created once the trial is over and will have led to nothing?

    • The DNA on the tourniquet is of interest but I think the case might hinge on the amount of saline pouches, especially if there are used/empty ones.

      An extra problem for Quintana is he’s denied taking tramadol despite two positive tests. But if can deny using saline pouches, or say the team gave the UCI all the no-needle request paperwork etc then it needn’t be too damaging.

  4. *If* this is all they’re working on after a targeted in-race police raid, the Q bros might be the provenly cleaner athletes around since post 2005 Cunego ^___^

  5. Just when you relax your guard, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has officially announced that Dutch cyclist Antwan Tolhoek, Trek, has been notified of an Adverse Analytical Finding for the detection of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids. He is allowed to have his ‘B’ sample tested.
    It would be good for fans, sponsors and event organizers if these people could take up ballet dancing instead of wearing lycra on a bike!

    • As someone who is also a fan of ballet, apart from the wearing lycra & having well-developed thigh muscles I don’t think professional cyclists have other suitable transferrable skills to take up professional ballet!

  6. What strikes me in these three recent stories (Quintana, Bonnamour, Tolhoek) is the relative psychological plausibility of the cases. One could see why a failed french next big thing facing career-ending, a climber fired from the WT and trying to make his way back in a portuguese conti could try to flirt with the limits of legality.
    As for Quintana, his career was slowly downgrading, and he was out of the WT, in a squad with light support ; you could see in the El dia menos pensado that he was always a little bit apart from the others, not communicating much with the rest of the team and he has come in a new team with his close tribe and his doctor, not learning the language everyone else was speaking, like if he wanted to do everything alone with his personal staff ; not to speak about the Tramadol case. Sure, this isn’t proofs and we can’t conclude any facts from what I said : but in a sense none of these three news really surprised me.
    I can be completely wrong, and some kind of gabrielesque dietrologica explanation can be true : to be frank I don’t really believe it, and it would need lot of facts and revelations to convince me.
    It seems to me than the old-fashion personal magic potion-style of doping with your own personal doctor is now always detected, sooner or later : or the only doping remaining is condemned after a few time, or… well, big teams, big money, etc.

    • As long as dietrologia is concerned, this psychological interpretation is novelesque in its own right. A “semiologic” text Eco once suggested was: could we simply invent something like that to explain, well, whatever we need to? I feel that the above belongs to the category. We could name very few cyclists (if any) about whom can’t be imagined any “reasonable motive” to dope.

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