Monday, October 04, 2010

Five Questions to Clear-up the Contador Clenbuterol Affair

As suggested by a correspondent:
  1. Where did the meat come from?
  2. Does the farmer regularly supply his stock with CB?
  3. Is it a common practice in Spain to dope your cattle with CB?
  4. Test several of his cows right now. Do they come positive for CB? If so, at what concentration?
  5. Is the level of CB found in AC’s urine consistent with the amount that would be found in a person who ingested N grams of beef from stock that may have had N % of first generation CB in the bloodstream?
By providing answers to these questions, Alberto Contador can do much to support his claims of having been victimized. I, for one, would very much like for him to prove his case and earn his exoneration.


  1. CB is illegal in the EU. No way, unless he went to Asia and ate meat.

  2. Just because it's illegal doesn't mean it isn't done by individual producers. Blood doping is illegal in Spanish bike racing but that hasn't stopped some athletes.

    So, let Contador present the cattleman who will take the rap for him. If he can do that, then he should be exonerated just for having developed that credible a back-story.

  3. The answer to 1), 2) 3) and 4) should be easy to find

    First, there's a Europe wide tracking scheme that means every cut of beef is logged and tracked for the very reason that any contaminated meat can be tracked backwards from the dish to the field.

    It's illegal in Europe to treat cows with clenbuterol. But presumably if one cow has been doped then you should presumably find the whole herd probably got the same.

    It's also illegal to treat cattle with this in the EU. It might not have stopped some unscrupulous farmers but if it happened more often then presumably there would be more positive tests, athletes across more sports would be showing up from time to time.

    5) This is crucial. If the cow is found and some calculations are done then he's cleared.

    I'd ask some more questions:
    - why wasn't the hunt for bad butcher started earlier, it only seems to have begun recently.
    - why the certainty over the meat? If you show up positive for something and have no genuine explanation, then you might come up with a few ideas but at best you'd have a few hypotheses.

    We you can't be sure the meat is bad, it might well be something else that has been contaminated and ingested.

    Just as it could be doping too.

  4. Thanks for your follow-on questions, TheInnerRing. Much appreciated.

  5. Well done.

    1) Were public health authorities notified of the possibility of clenbuterol tainting local meat supplies, and if so, when?

    2) What steps have public health authorities or anyone else taken to trace the tainted meat to the farm, and when did those take place?

    3) How can you be certain it was tenderloin from Irun and not tenderloin your chef bought in Pau or from some other source?

  6. Pertinent stuff, as ever, from one of the best cycling bloggers on the internet - thanks Joe. And an equally pertinent response from another - thanks, Inner Ring.
    Just to add to the debate, Professor Michel Audran, one of the founders of the UCI’s Biological Passport system, told RMC the product might also have entered AC's system by doping with an undetectable substance that could also be contaminated.” My assumption is that this hypothesis is based on precedent.

  7. Did no one else in Astana eat this meat and test positive at the same time?

  8. Matt, thanks for the praise and the information provided by Prof. Audran. While I genuinely hope that there's a herd of clenbuterol-contaminated-cattle somewhere in Spain with AC's name on them, you're right to raise the possibility that the contamination was not of meat, but rather, some substance hitherto unknown to all of us.

  9. Ste, I believe that Contador attempted to explain his being the only one to test positive, though I don't remember the specifics - save for the fact that Vino ate earlier and/or he rejected the hotel chef's meat because it wasn't appetizing. ;)

  10. Jonathan Williams04 October, 2010 13:15

    Aren't we still dealing with a strict liability offense here? And won't that mean Contador will face at least some kind of ban? And won't that ban include stripping him of his TdF title?

    Unless, of course, Contador gets special treatment. Right?

  11. JW - I'm assuming that, while strict liability would apply to you and me, they'll make an exception in the case of the TdF winner (as long as his name isn't Floyd Landis).

  12. Jonathan Williams04 October, 2010 13:24

    Yeah, I'm afraid you're probably right.

  13. One more:

    Do you take any nutritional supplements, protein powders, pills or capsules of any type, "homeopathic" remedies, or take in any other non-food substance that could potentially have been contaminated? If so, how did you rule it out for potential clenbuterol contamination?

  14. If AC was running an extra quart post rest day... hmmm, what does that say about AS? He was so quick to jump out in support of AC.

  15. Joe, I love the blog and the opinions. Thanks for both. This is kind of a tangent, but how do you think Floyd will react if AC is given a pass for this positive? I don't think he would take it too well and I think he would be compelled to ramp up his efforts.

  16. From a commentator called Robert G Thorne over at the Science of Sport blog:
    "Reporting in the New York Times, Juliet Macur writes: "Fernando Ramos, a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal who has studied clenbuterol contamination in meat for 20 years, said it was highly unlikely that Contador tested positive from eating meat other than liver, noting that the concentration would have to be so high that the animal would have died before being slaughtered."
    Indeed, looking at the literature, it seems clear that cows concentrate clenbuterol in the liver and that a number of intoxication cases have been related to consuming liver from clenbuterol-contaminated animals, for example (note Ramos is among the authors):
    Barbosa J, Cruz C, Martins J, Silva JM, Neves C, Alves C, Ramos F, Da Silveira MI. Food poisoning by clenbuterol in Portugal. Food Addit Contam. 2005 Jun;22(6):563-6."

    Contador isn't claiming he ate liver, so I think his story may not stand up to scrutiny.

  17. farmers grow things out of the ground
    ranchers have cattle
    often times they can and will be both
    you don't farm cattle but you can have cattle at your farm

  18. I don't follow, Anonymous... I'm a 4th generation Asparagus Rancher and I grow bulls in the garden.

  19. Kinetic - I don't want to give the impression that I think Floyd is motivated by a desire to get revenge on any particular rider, even if he's accused several of doping. I also can't say for certain how he would react to the possibility that AC would be given a pass and not sanctioned. If it were me in his shoes, however, and I had won the Tour de France with doping, only to have it taken it away from me, while the rider who won it before me, and the rider who won it after me both used doping and were celebrated and lauded for their efforts, which weren't 'markedly different from my own, well, I think I'd kinda take offense at that and perhaps redouble my efforts to expose corruption and hypocrisy WHERE I PERCEIVED IT TO EXIST.

  20. I just want to share this follow-up comment which was left by a reader, but deleted either by accident or w/o my being aware. I appreciate his taking the time to response, and especially bringing up the point about the lab that detected the clenbuterol levels being the only one with the equipment that has such sensitivity, and how that could mean that other meat-eaters or normal folk have clen in their system that came from non-doping administration.

    I hope Contador can prove his innocence.

  21. "I enjoy reading the questions that turned up here but it's sad that those who post questions as evidence of guilt think so little about whether they've proven anything. By no means I am saying AC hasn't doped himself (more or less than any other rider) at some time, it would be hard to imagine anyone being able to win undoped against a bunch of doped riders but let's stick to the Clenbuterol dilemma this time. It all sounds very incriminating and everyone can extract a small detail to add some other detail and claim it becomes proof when there is no-one to question their logic so here goes:
    Regarding the levels found. Firstly, they are tiny, meaning several things:
    As taken on the day of testing (deduction from none present in test the day before and less the day after), the amount was completely pointless for performance enhancing so we can safely say it wasn't ingested on purpose. So it was either ingested through something normal or as someone has suggested as a residue from from some other doping attempt. The latter seems unlikely for several reasons, firstly it would have to be some form of doping with immediate effect (crucial day) and unnoticeable to testing, now I'm no specialist but I don't know what you could take in large enough quantities to have an effect the next day whilst remaining invisible to daily tests. Secondly, say it was blood (maybe even Alberto's own) or some other form of human carrier, how did such a level of Clenbuterol (undetected at the time) get into the product when every cyclist knows Clenbuterol is a no go area for doping as it shows up immediately?
    Going to the meat theory, well, sorry guys but its pretty plausible. The specialist who says it could only be liver is speaking out his *ss, several times there have been outbreaks of illness (especially in Spain and China) due to Clenbuterol treated meat consumed by hundreds of citizens, and it wasn't only liver. Not only that but the amounts just don't add up, those who fell ill had concentrations of around 50ng/ml in their urine, Contador's level was 50 pg/ml, 1000x less!!! So I'm not buying that as an argument.
    There are also those using the naïve argument that it can't be meat because use of Clenbuterol is illegal, well, shall we make a list of illegal stuff added to food in the past? Driving too fast is illegal too, Clenbuterol testing in cattle doesn't get gone unless there's evidence it has been used, as long as it's used in small quantities, no evidence will ever show up because they don't test like they do for cyclists and no-one would notice any side effects at Contador concentrations.
    If I understand correctly, this is the first time Clenbuterol levels have been able to be measured at such low concentrations, it is thus maybe normal no-one was found with it before, maybe if they test a few others (maybe normal citizens too as reference values) this way now they will find others with these kind of concentrations.
    There are also those who find it strange anyone would remember what they ate what day, well I say, when you're cycling at that level, everything you eat, drink smell, fart and say gets noted and your diet is so regulated that you'll certainly remember eating anything not on your usual menu, especially on a rest day which stands out in a riders memory anyway, besides, Contador was informed of the result pretty early on so he didn't have to strain his memory much.
    Anyway, there's plenty AC can do to provide evidence and there's plenty doping authorities could do to cross-check their findings but I've never noticed them being interested in objective analysis, this all seems slightly too political to me, someone trying to show the power they have."

  22. So there you go, that quote above was a comment that I wish the reader hadn't deleted. I appreciate his taking the time to leave it and hope he returns.

  23. Hi JMP,
    I'm back. Didn't delete the post but got a message saying the URI was too long to handle, thought it wouldn't post but the 2nd time it appeared as if it had, then it was gone again. Plenty left to do in software development on the internet to make it more user-friendly.
    Thanks for the blog.
    We didn't mention the other allegations but just to touch on the plasticiser polemic, can anyone state as a fact that that plasticiser is ony found in bags used for holding blood? If not it's another substance that could enter the body through any number of harmless ways.

  24. Someone in another discussion I'm having quoted some figures to raise the comment it would be highly unlikely to find Clenbuterol in EU meat these days, I do not agree, once again the logic is faulty. Over two recent years the EU found only one meat sample tested +ve for Clenbuterol in over 80000 with almost 20000 from Spain where none did. That's their proof Clenbuterol is no longer used. I say it shows nothing because their testing is not configured to find traces of Clenbuterol but to find dangerous levels, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack with a pitchfork and saying it isn't in there because the fork didn't pick it out. With AC we're going through the haystack with a metal detector, I reckon if the EU used that metal detector on their meat samples it would freak out more often than a geiger counter at Chernobyl. With meat we are looking for nanograms in kilos, with Contador the lab is looking for picograms in milliliters, 1000x less in 1000x less or a concentration 1 million times smaller than what is searched for in meat. Start applying those kind of tests in general and you can guarantee you see the following kinds of headlines: Pope tested +ve for cannabis when in fact all he did was forget not to breathe as he passed over Amsterdam on a transatlantic flight. Jeez, I mean if you can measure the number of heroin users in a town by analysing the tiny amounts of by-products carried by urine found in river water then we really need to ask ourselves what levels we consider doping, as far as AC's samples go, if he had zero the day before, 50pg one day and 20 the next its safe to say this was not Clenbuterol doping, he will however have to get some evidence the residue was not from some other dubious intake.


Pappillon welcomes your comments and encourages your participation. However, in commenting, you agree that you will not:1) Post material that infringes on the rights of any third party, including intellectual property, privacy or publicity rights. 2) Post material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, threatening, harassing, abusive, slanderous, hateful, or embarrassing to any other person or entity as determined by Pappillon in its sole discretion. 3) Impersonate another person.