The Spanish cycling community is clamoring for the introduction of a minimum threshold for clenbuterol in the wake of the highly divisive doping case involving star rider Alberto Contador.
One of the tenets of Contador’s defense is that testing technology has moved faster than anti-doping rules and that a minimum threshold should be introduced for clenbuterol to differentiate between levels that enhance performance and what they call false positives triggered by food contamination.
“There needs to be a change in the anti-doping standards,” Contador said at a press conference at the Volta ao Algarve. “Technology has advanced, but the rules haven’t. The rules should be in accordance and I believe that they have to revise some points in the short term.”
Contador’s lawyers say new testing methodology allows minute traces of clenbuterol to be detected – 50 picograms in Contador’s case – levels they argue are well below what would create performance enhancement.
That argument also undermines the existing WADA concept of “strict liability,” that an athlete is responsible for what goes into their bodies and faces up to a two-year ban when illegal substances are detected.
That’s not stopping the Spanish sports community from raising doubts about clenbuterol and false positives from the consumption of spiked beef.
Last fall, representatives of the Spanish Asociación de Deportistas, led by ex-tennis star Emilio Sánchez Vicario, pressed the issue by formally approaching Spain’s anti-doping agency about growing concerns of clenbuterol positives triggered from eating contaminated meat.
This week, Alejandro Blanco, the president of Spain’s international Olympic committee, joined the chorus, saying that federations are being forced to ban athletes who are not guilty of doping violations because anti-doping rules are not in sync with new technology that can detect minute traces of substances such as clenbuterol.
Javier Martín del Burgo, director of the Spanish anti-doping agency (AEA), vowed to take a challenge to the World Anti-Doping Agency to create some of universal minimum standard for detecting levels of clenbuterol.
Media reports in Spain have suggested that some discussion among scientific circles about creating a minimum threshold for clenbuterol is already underway.
WADA declined to comment when asked by VeloNews if such a policy review is ongoing.
Such a revision would likely take months, if not years, of study to create a consensus among the scientific community about what, if any, threshold would be appropriate for clenbuterol.
Experts generally agree that such low levels of clenbuterol as in Contador’s case, at least by themselves, would not create a competitive edge. There’s equally no agreement about what levels would, in fact, create a boost.
Contador’s legal team also argues that their client’s infamous steak dinner on the Tour’s second rest day is the only way clenbuterol could have entered his system.
Others have countered that the drug could have entered Contador’s system via a blood transfusion and the traces were remnants from an earlier doping cycle, something Contador’s legal team says is disproved because a transfusion would trigger alarms via Contador’s biological passport.
There seems to be legitimate concern after a spike of clenbuterol cases in China and Latin America.
In fact, this week, a WADA-accredited lab in Cologne, Germany – the same lab that ran the tests on Contador’s sample that triggered his positive – released new evidence that backed the argument that clenbuterol contamination is plausible. The study revealed that 22 of 28 tourists returning to Germany from China tested positive for low levels of clenbuterol.
In another recent case, Ukraine-born German table tennis player Dimitrij Ovtcharov was cleared by the German federation after he tested positive for clenbuterol following a trip to China. Ovtcharov was also able to provide hair samples, which help scientists determine if clenbuterol came from accidental contamination or whether it was used over a longer period of time, which would suggest doping.
WADA opted not to appeal that case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, something the Spanish disciplinary commission says helped tipped them in favor of clearing Contador on Tuesday.
Whether all this relates to the Contador case remains to be seen.
Contador’s clenbuterol case is the lone positive in Europe, where the drug has been banned by the European Union since the mid-1990s for the use in beef for human consumption.
Both UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency retain their option to appeal the case to CAS and have 30 days to notify their intentions after they’ve officially received the Spanish federation’s ruling.