As the Lance Armstrong saga kicks it up a notch, talks around the water cooler have re-ignited about the Contador ruling. Old news maybe, but I think there’s a lot more to the ruling than what journalists spew. I have always been interested in Armstrong and Contadors relationship after their interesting TdF together for Astana. I know people’s personalities can clash, but for the sake of the team, most people can put these things aside for the biggest race of the year. So the personality clash didn’t sit right with me, there has to be more to it.
After a long think about their attitudes, given they are both champions of the sport, why would they not respect each others achievements? I concluded that one is a clean athlete and the other is dirty… AND they know it. So who is it? You would assume Contador is dirty given he’s been officially suspended for illegal substances, not to mention being stripped of his TdF and Giro victories. All the while Armstrong has a clean track record.
If you search hard enough you will find quite a lot of unreported information about Armstrong. Like how he HAS failed drug tests such as the one in the Tour de Suisse and the UCI has swept it under the carpet. But I am not here to talk about Lance and the mounting evidence against him, I’d much rather share the real story behind Alberto Contador. I have read quite a few articles by people who have done the research. Not the journalists that embellish their stories based media releases.
I came across a blog that explains everything in a fair and informative way. There’s no way I could sum it all up as good as this guy. You can visit the blog yourself at http://thepsychophysiologist.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/contador-is-innocent-part-deux-yelling.html . All I have done here is basically copy and pasted it for you. I would like to leave you with one question to ponder. Why would a rider of such caliber, profile and salary, risk his career on such an easily detectable substance with little performance value?
Contador is Innocent, Part Deux: The Yelling.
So, I’ve spent an hour of my life last night reading the incredibly explicit details in the 100 page report that the Court of Arbitration in Sport wrote about the Contador ruling.
It certainly wasn’t a wasted hour, even though it’s making me write this on a day when I’m busier than usual. It’s been an eye opening process. I now know more about sports arbitration that I did before, and I’ve had a good think about drugs (always fun), and I’m also hopping mad. But we’ll get to that.
I’m not retracting my previous statement. But I will qualify it.
When I say “Contador is innocent”…
I mean it.
… he’s innocent of doping…
…but he’s guilty of failing a drug test.
Let’s make a series of statements to clear this up, as there’s a lot of outstanding points.
1. There is nothing wrong with the test, no conspiracy or irregularities – the pharmokinetics are perfectly normal.
That is – both of his samples (they take two of them, for accuracy’s sake) from July 21st, 2010 returned positive amounts. The subsequent days also returned positive amount, in continually smaller doses.
Seeing as we’re nerding out here, I’ve got a graph.
|I don’t label my axes. Living on the edge here.
This fits OK with the half-life of clenbuterol (the amount of time it takes for an ingested dose to reduce by half). I think this is normatively about 1 to 1.5 (i.e. a day to a day-and-a-half), and my back-of-the-envelope calculation of the elimination rate constant is 1.14 (for the first interval). Close enough.
2. The dose is absurdly, stupidly low. There was no performance enhancing effect.
As I wrote before, the normal dose for clenbuterol conferring some kind of performance enhancement is 20 micrograms – which is 20 million picograms, relevant as the amount detected in the urine test was 50 picograms per mL.
In other words, the amount of clenbuterol that would result in this urine test is real, REAL low. There is no question at all that there was no performance enhancing benefit of this substance.
Everyone in arbitration agreed with this statement – including WADA. It was one of the reasons the Spanish National Committee of Sports Discipline (unsure of the literal translation) originally let him off the hook early last year. What’s the point of doping yourself without enough of something to even work? And while we’re on the topic…
3. Clenbuterol is bad choice of drug for cyclists.
The above goes deeper. It’s not just the fact that there wasn’t enough of it. It’s a really terrible drug for cyclists. Clenbuterol is as old as the hills they ride on, is easily detectable, and is of seriously questionable benefit for road cyclists. It may have some cardiovascular benefits, but it also raises your BMR (basal metabolic rate) quite a lot – this is why it’s typically used as a fat burner. NOT a good idea when you’re riding 50km up a hill!
In the age of blood plasticisers and EPO and blood doping, the chance of a cyclist using something both detectable and only partially effective are very, very low. This isn’t something the court pursued, of course – I’m pretty sure all parties concerned don’t want official proceedings to state in plain English “Come on, our guys are better at cheating than this!”
4. If the sample had gone to a different lab, he may well have passed.
The testing procedure is actually extremely variable. There’s only a MINIMUM figure listed for accuracy – labs have to be of a certain standard, which in the case of clenbuterol is 2 nanograms per mL, but they actually have the freedom to be a lot better. The lab that got this sample actually is, it was tested at the University of Cologne, which is a Sports Science university with a Biochemistry institute. Their test goes down to TWO picograms / mL – a thousand times more accurate than the minimum standard.
This is a really interesting phenomenon, because a “positive test” is the presence of ANY banned substance, not the presence of the substance above a certain level. This means the test may well have been fine at a different laboratory. Fair, eh?
In fact in a stroke of uncomfortable irony, the lab who got the sample were also the guys who did this.
A study by a German doping laboratory has found that humans can inadvertently ingest clenbuterol from eating meat, a finding that would support claims by Alberto Contador and other athletes that contaminated beef caused their positive drug tests.
The German Sports University lab in Cologne — accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency — is warning athletes of the risks of accidental clenbuterol doping when traveling to China.
The lab carried out an investigation that found that 22 out of 28 travelers returning to Germany from China tested positive for low levels of clenbuterol. The samples were tested between Sept. 15 and Jan. 15.
The Cologne study appears to offer the strongest proof yet that athletes can test positive inadvertently from food. It challenges WADA’s principle of strict liability, which holds that athletes are responsible for all substances found in their body.
Dozens of Chinese athletes have tested positive for clenbuterol in the past three years and received bans despite claims of contamination.
Contador — whose samples were tested at the Cologne lab last year — blamed his positive clenbuterol test at the Tour de France on eating beef that was brought across the border from Spain. He was cleared of doping Tuesday by the Spanish cycling federation, which reversed an earlier recommendation to suspend him for one year.
Remember that bold paragraph, it’ll come in handy as we consider…
5. This ain’t yo Momma’s court!
Strict liability is right. Here’s the relevant part of proceedings.
Right at the top there: “it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence … be demonstrated”.
In other words, if the test catches you, we will throw the book at you. The court actually examined all the possible reasons for the positive test:
1. Contaminated meat
Of course, this is totally possible. See the China example above! It’s just less much less likely in the EU, which is a well-regulated place.
2. Screwed up blood doping.
One theory was that he accidentally injected someone else’s plasma with clenbuterol attached. WADA discounted this idea too. I mean, is someone sophisticated enough to be separately blood doping and filling up with plasma injections to balance his haemocrit stupid enough to get his plasma from someone who has an easily detectable drug in their system?
3. Contaminated supplements
Also possible (and has happened before). But everyone else on his team were all taking the same supplements. So what are the odds that only he would test positive, and everyone else would be fine?
So, three explanations which are all possible, but are in retrospect extremely difficult to prove one way or another.
And while that might be enough for ‘reasonable doubt’, that’s not how this tribunal works, and it’s not good enough for WADA to challenge its strict liability policy. Thus, the hammer came down.
So, there’s a bunch of things we can’t do here.
We can’t declare him having passed the test. He didn’t and he admitted it the entire time. He admitted it in the court proceedings.
We can’t also declare him a cheat. He didn’t cheat, and everyone on all sides admits it. He just can’t prove how he failed the test so they nail him to the wall. Even though there aren’t any circumstances where this could be described as doping. They’re the rules he races under. They might be unfair as hell, but in the meantime they are what they are, and he no doubt signed a piece of paper agreeing to them.
We can’t also defend the man from all the slings and arrows since ever – he’s not a Girl Scout, and he was embroiled in doping mularkey before (that was REAL doping, with EFFECTIVE methods). Professional cycling teams have done and may well still do enough drugs to make Keith Richards blink. He’s at the very top of a very dirty sport. Be a bit premature to declare him anything.
I’ll tell you two things that definitely can be done, which are definitely, definitely the right thing to do.
1. Stop this intense, fact-free, hysterical moral panic about doping.
Especially you, John Fahey.
(John Fahey, who I am ashamed to say was the Premier of NSW (where I live – the US equivalent would be a Governor), was one of our least-interesting premiers – inheriting the job from another guy, he presided over a period of relative calm and not very much, then lost after one term to Bob Carr. He’s most famous for getting excited when we won the 2000 Olympic bid and saving Prince Charles from being assassinated… by cap-gun. One hell of a legacy. As it happens, me and my brother grew up making fun of him.)
He’s now the head of WADA.
He’s just come out and explicitly labelled Contador a cheat.
Go to Google News – here – and put in “Contador cheat”. Scroll through to the other days to see people who aren’t Fahey saying it.
Cheating is an immoral way of winning at something. So, this isn’t cheating. The colour of his bike probably had more of an effect than the homeopathic amount of clen they found in the man.
Not only is Fahey making a meal out of this, so are a thousand sports journalists the planet over. Just scroll through the articles and see.
All of you people should be fucking ashamed of yourselves.
It’s very easy to yell cheat at the top of your lungs, when we’ve made a convenient category where these people aren’t people any more – they’re instant pariahs, just add homeopathic clenbuterol and shake.
Unless you’re willing to do even the barest skerrick of research, SHUT YOUR MOUTH. You’re a disgrace to your professional standards. Do you think a financial journalist would comment on a reserve bank ruling on the basis of having just read a press release? Do you think a political reporter would comment on a government initiative without reading the white paper that was release with it? Why are you exempt from work? And why does the head of WADA not read his own organisation’s arbitration before commenting on it?
So often sports journalism is both RETROSPECTIVE and MORAL journalism, where you create instructive narratives about things that have already happened. It’s funny how your bold predictions so often disappear and you consistently lose the tipping pools in the newspaper to punters and dartboards and astrologers… aren’t you supposed to be the experts?
It’s no wonder that Nassim Taleb calls sport “prostituted randomness”. That would make you the pimps. And pimps are immoral bastards who exploit the dire situations of others. In this situation, perfect.
2. Not let things like this drag on for 18 months.
Seriously. He’s spent most of that time racing with this hanging over his head. He could still win races, mind you, but that says more about his mental strength than the correctness of the decision. A bad decision give that, by the strict interpretation of their own rules, they very much HAD to return a finding which says “rules iz rules, you’re busted”. Pretty obscene.
Now, they want all the money back from the races he won in the meantime (and he was probably too scared to drink anything stronger than a cup of tea) and make the whole thing look like a saga in which he came out guilty after all when all his weaseling and dissembling was finished.
Cycling: clean your damn house. Your handling of this was so gingerly and awkward you’d think you were a haemophiliac juggling a cactus and a sawblade.