Three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, suspended Thursday after failing a dope test, blamed the positive result on contaminated meat, in an emotional protest of his innocence.
Earlier in the day, the UCI announced that the cycling superstar had been provisionally suspended after a minute trace of clenbuterol, a banned substance, was detected in a urine sample taken from the Spaniard on July 21.
“It’s a case of food contamination to which I was the victim,” Contador, who appeared tense and at times on the verge of tears, told a news conference in a hotel in his hometown of Pinto, outside Madrid.
Contador, who won his third yellow jersey at the end of July’s three-week epic, said he ingested the tiny amount of clenbuterol in meat that he had eaten both the day before and the day of the control.
He said the meat came from Spain, but did not say specifically where it was bought. Contador said he was the only one to have been tested among the riders who ate the meat.
The 27-year-old, one of only a handful of riders to have won the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, said the UCI informed him of the positive test on August 24, and two days later he spoke “at length” with the UCI medical team “about how it all happened.”
“The UCI itself affirmed in front of me that it was a case of food contamination,” he said. “This is a genuine mistake, it’s sad that a sport such as this … is involved in things like this. I think that this will be resolved in a clear way, with the truth up front.”
The UCI “understands that is a special case, which has to be examined.”
The rider said he was “sad and disappointed, but with my head held high.”
“I have been through this for a month a half, without sleeping,” adding that he had not even told his own family “because I prefer that they don’t suffer and I that I alone suffer.”
A banned substance which can be used to help lose weight and help breathing, clenbuterol is also known to boost performance by helping to increase muscle-to-fat ratios, which is why it is sometimes illegally used by meat producers.
Contador said the tiny amount detected in his body “is completely insignificant” in terms of helping his performance in the Tour.
He said the UCI is in talks with the World Anti Doping Agency “to see if the system can be revised.”
The UCI said clenbuterol was detected in a urine sample taken from the Spaniard on July 21, during the second rest day in Pau at the foot of the French Pyrenees and four days before he won his third Tour de France title.
The governing body, however, added that only a “very small concentration” of the drug had been found and that the case warranted “further scientific investigation” because the Cologne laboratory that detected the substance is known to be able to detect the tiniest traces of drugs.
“The concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms (50 trillionths of a gram) which is 400 times less (Editor’s Note: The WADA standard is actually 40 times higher than the level detected by the Cologne lab.) than what the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) must be able to detect,” the UCI said, adding that testing of a second “B” sample taken at the same time confirmed the result.