October 2nd, 2010
01:37 PM ET

Contador incident was an accident waiting to happen

Alberto Contador tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol, it was revealed on Thursday.
Alberto Contador tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol, it was revealed on Thursday.

News of Alberto Contador’s positive test for Clenbuterol may have been a shocker to those of us outside the cycling fraternity, but I get the impression that it was an accident waiting to happen for those in the know.

Contador may have been portrayed as the poster boy for the new era of cycling, in which rigid testing would weed out all the cheats and eventually make doping scandals a thing of the past. But it always looked a bit like clutching at straws when your poster boy is a previous doping suspect - Contador lost his place in the 2006 Tour de France in connection with the Operacion Puerto scandal, before facing further insinuations of doping a year later, and again in 2009.

The Spaniard, while always found to be clean, was therefore a sitting target in some respects, since this seems to be a sport in which if mud doesn’t stick first time, you just keep on throwing it until it does. Just ask Lance Armstrong, who’s now under the scrutiny of a federal grand jury in the United States amid yet more allegations of doping during his career.

That said, Contador should be considered innocent until proven guilty. And by the way in which the International Cycling Union is downplaying the level of Clenbuterol in his system on July 21st, it seems highly likely that he will be exonerated of intentional wrongdoing.

If he is, then perhaps cycling needs to ask itself a serious question. How much transparency is too much transparency? If indeed Contador did ingest a miniscule amount of the banned drug via contaminated food, and if indeed he did so unwittingly with no intention of cheating, then why trumpet his faux pas to the whole world?

I can’t for the life of me believe that the intention of the World Anti-Doping Agency is to humiliate and undermine those who make a genuine mistake.

Surely anti-doping policies are designed to catch those who systematically and deliberately seek to enhance their performance by the use of banned drugs. If so, where is the sense in subjecting an athlete to a public pillorying for what is not the cliched cover-all excuse of an “error of judgment” but genuine bad luck. Furthermore, what’s the point in embarrassing the whole sport over a relatively trivial offence?

Of course, every sport needs to be clean and wants to be seen to be clean, and cycling is obviously showing a great desire to get its house in order. However, I think in an effort to be transparent you can sometimes become over zealous, and that’s a danger. After all, while it’s sometime necessary to air your dirty laundry in public, at other times it’s better to just stick it in the tumble drier and be done with it.

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Filed under:  Cycling
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Andres

    There is no such thing as "too much" transparency regarding doping controls in sports.

    October 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  2. tom watson

    tumble dryer? oh really? you better start thinking industrial size jumbo dryer 🙂

    October 2, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  3. pedro

    Why is everybody forgiving Contador and blaming Armstrong? I want to know how a piece of meat becomes Clembuterol!!!

    October 2, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  4. SpinDoctor

    I think this story is the tip of an iceberg that extends way beyond cycling:

    Biochemically active molecules are present in drinking water , food, etc .

    Alberto C happens to be tested daily using state of the art analytics, and traces of Clenbuterol show up in one of the tests. I bet that if you randomly pick 100 people, and test them , you would be surprized what chemicals show up in trace amounts. The Contador case reminds us of this ecological catastrophy waiting to happen.

    The real question is not :
    what medicine (allowed or not) did he took to ride his bike a bit faster ?
    , but :
    is this a sign that we have started to poison ourselves on a massive scale ?

    October 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  5. Celestino Gonçalves

    I feel sad for that. I think we'll never have a clean sport for a very,very long time.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  6. Mil Mascaras


    October 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  7. Dane Thomas

    I'm pretty sure that most would agree that dirty laundry should be run through the washer before being put in the tumble dryer.

    WADA's consistent inability to live up to their own code is part of the problem. The labs used do not have a common set of standards. LFDD in particular routinely has positive findings that would not be positive according to the standards of other labs worldwide, but there is no mechanism to correct this discrepancy. Athletes are routinely tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion long before the scientific facts of the case have a chance to be fully examined. WADA officials comment on cases while they are still ongoing, painting themselves into corners that do not allow room for an athlete to be found not guilty, regardless of the scientific merits of the case.

    Clean up the WADA code. Enforce it fairly. Reduce the chances of false positives. Make it about responsible science to keep things clean rather than witch hunts and politics. Make sure that B-tests must be done at a different lab than the A-test. Determine specific minimum acceptable levels that at least match minimum detection standards for the instruments in question, not just zero.

    The whole drug testing system needs to be run through the washer. They are missing a lot of cheaters, but that can never justify a false positive.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  8. Varun

    What is this article? a massive tweet? it has no substance what so ever.

    Clenbuterol is primarily a Sprinters dope, Contador is a climber
    Amount is 400 times less than what is The minimum required to WADA to trigger a ban and all the rest.
    Contador didn't take part after winning his 1st tour because he had joined Astana, a team which was suspended by the Tour de France organizers for previous years fiasco with Vinokourov's doping and all.

    CNN is full of silly useless un informed sports journos, Terry Baddoo is top among them.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  9. Jim F

    "A relatively trivial offence (sic)"?!?! Drug guilt in the Tour isn't trivial. How could these pampered cyclists have been served tainted meat during the tour?!?!?! Everything they consume is carefully controlled. You want to convince me he got old, bad meat during the Tour? Impossible. Everything they've eaten in the last five years has been carefully controlled. You want to tell me during the tour his team ate anything put in front of them?!?!

    Drug offenses cannot go into the "tumble drier" (sic) "to be done with." Journalists like you are terrible for the sport.Terry Baddoo, your transparent idiocy is worse than your spelling. You are bad for the sport, and for the greatest race on Earth.

    CNN, how can you publish this!

    October 2, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  10. Cyril V

    Contador is guilt. He must be banned, like other cheats. He hate Armstrong, so he use the drugs. Like last year winner, he must return his award for the honor of Le Tour. He must not ride again in France.

    October 2, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  11. Remi

    "Innocent until proven guilty"?!?! His A and B tests both tested positive. He IS proved guilty! These are not samples and tests that are many years old. He must be eliminated from the sport. Now we cannot trust the organizers of the Tour. They knew he was guilty and let him ride anyway, and bask in the glory of the best sporting event in the world. He should have been removed from the race.

    October 2, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  12. T Pascal

    This writer spells worse English than I do. CNN is drugged!

    October 2, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Reply
  13. tom watson

    i gave my comment...hours ago

    October 2, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  14. Lee

    This Sport should be banned because the doping scandal is becoming so ugly, athletes who can't stay clean should receive a harsh punishment like a ban for life

    October 3, 2010 at 2:22 am | Reply
  15. Chemainiac

    Mr. Baddoo,

    you need to do your homework. If you even remotely believeit was contaminated food, well, I have some swampland in Florida that might interest you. Everyone knows Contador has been doping. The Spanish have institutionalized the use of performance enhancing drugs. (4) Spaniards outted in 2 days. It is a sad situation for a beautiful sport. But I do think that he will get a pass because cycling does not want to deal with another tarnished yellow jersey.

    October 3, 2010 at 2:30 am | Reply
  16. Fred A. Lewis

    With due respect to Mr. Baddoo...

    1) The world of cycling cannot allow this test to be overturned or the offender exonerated because the amount was a low level as "ANY" amount is a violation... Exonerating him just sets too deep a precedence for others who "will" take advantage of it in order to abuse the system...

    2) "Innocent till proven Guilty"... Mr Contador "IS" guilty of having been found to have a BANNED substance in both his A & B samples – they tested the B sample as soon as it was discovered in his A sample – which is not normally done without the request of the alleged offender because the amount was very small and they wanted to be ABSOLUTELY sure before proceeding further with such a high profile "poster boy" athlete...

    He is guilty and there is nothing he can do to get around that scientific evidence ( just ask Floyd ) – the question however remains what UCI TdF WADA et al... will do about it...

    3) It is HIGHLY unlikely that Mr Contador will be able to do anything to PROVE that he ingested the substance by MISTAKE unless he still has a sample of the offending meat and can scientifically trace how it arrived in his food that day...

    The fact is that it was in his blood stream and found in both of his samples – no excuses when you are the winner of the TdF you HAVE to be 110% squeaky clean or suffer the consequences...

    October 3, 2010 at 4:19 am | Reply
  17. Errr

    Errr... who is this guy?

    October 3, 2010 at 7:56 am | Reply
  18. RobbieCanuck

    Cycling has been so deep in doping cases, there is little choice but to publicly announce virtually any case. As it was this case came to light in August and is only now been revealed.

    October 3, 2010 at 7:58 am | Reply
  19. Willem

    Agree. Cycling needs to be a lot more pragmatic in its approach to finding and penalizing dopers. You cannot make your own tears by hanging every person with a miniscule amount of some obscure substance on the big bell and then complaining about the bad wrap your sport is getting. Stop being silly about this.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:15 am | Reply
  20. Antonio

    The accusation against Contador is absolutly unfair, as the level detected is 40 times lower that the minimum that a laboratory MUST be capable of detecting. His blood samples were taken to the most specialized laboratory in the world. Any blood sample from anybody would show levels of substances that came with the food, not intentionally taken to get advantage.

    THe level of clembuterol found is 0.00000000005 grams/litre, that is 50 picograms/litre, when the minimum that the laboratory should have search is 40 times higher, that is 2000 picograms

    This means that only with levels 40 times higher that what they have found, the UCI should start to think that it might be something wrong.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:44 am | Reply
  21. Colin Shek

    I don't understand why you're blaming Wada for Contador's current woes. From what I've read, it was the UCI that tested his samples and informed him and the media of the results. They provisionally suspended him, not Wada, so your anger at the latter is misplaced.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:50 am | Reply
  22. Terry Baddoo

    For once I am moved to respond to my own post. Let's start with the basics. Tumble dryer and tumble drier are both correct. A simple check of the dictionary would have sorted that out for you Jim F...."Innocent until proven guilty", refers to intentional wrongdoing not simply a failed test, Remi. Avoiding knee-jerk reaction such as yours is what this blog was all about.....Guilt by association with the Astana team seemed a good enough reason for Greg Lemond to cast aspersions on Contador, and I think he might have a little more credibility than your yourself, Varun.....Clenbuterol is often used "illegally" in the processing of meat to make it leaner, therefore it is in the food chain and can be accidentally ingested. In fact, you might have some in you right now, Chemainiac.....Finally, the offence is "trivial" if it turns out to be an accidental dose of such miniscule proportions that it would not enhance performance in any way. Therefore to make the test result public and then to hand out draconian punishment is not the best way to enhance the image of the sport in my opinion. That said, the whole point of a professional blog is to get people thinking and talking, and I believe I have :}

    October 4, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  23. Mike

    Contador will be reinstated. The amount of this drug wouldn't have any effect on his climbing ability, which is his specialty. He was the only person at that team dinner that had the Spanish beef and was tested, a teammate was tested as well and didn't have the beef; the teammate was clean, and it was Vino.

    It's a shame that this has been blown way out of proportion. There are real cheaters out there, Contador isn't one of them.

    October 5, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  24. Rakker

    I don't understand the rules anymore. A chinese cycler was banned for 2 years for the same offence. Why is there a discussion here?

    As for the low level of the chemical: a badly timed transfusion explains this perfectly.

    The definition of guilty is a double positive test is it not? Why the special treatment? Please answer this?

    October 10, 2010 at 9:21 am | Reply
  25. Susan

    Guilt by association with the Astana team seemed a good enough reason for Greg Lemond to cast aspersions on Contador,
    in my mind, Greg Lemond has caused damage to the cycling world by his hatred of Armstrong. This is too bad as Lemond was the first American rider that we followed with joy – now not so much. My stomach sours at the mention of his name or testimony.
    As far as Contador is concerned, anyone who is not French and is a winner of the TdF is a tagart – sorry but that's the way of the TdF
    keep up the good work Baddoo

    November 12, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  26. Bhoot

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

    August 10, 2011 at 1:21 am | Reply

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