Feb 2012 14
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Anti-Doping’s latest scapegoat: Alberto Contador

James writes:

Hi Anthony,

Excuse me emailing you out of the blue, but I’m going out of my mind.

I posted this on a whim:

http://thepsychophysiologist.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/i-cannot-avoid-conclusion-that-alberto.html

http://thepsychophysiologist.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/contador-is-innocent-part-deux-yelling.html

and I’ve been getting my ear pissed in ever since. It seems people are in a moral panic about this, and they really want to hang the man out to dry. You’re about the only voice in the wilderness I can find that agrees that the facts and circumstances of the testing are completely inconsistent with doping. I mean – a homeopathic dose of clenbuterol in the middle of the most highly tested cycling race in the world? Come on, CLEN?? Seriously? 

Doesn’t anyone remember that table tennis player who got done in the same way? What’s clen going to do for a bloody table tennis player?!? 

The whole thing looks like a stitch-up and it seems like everyone is uninterested in, I don’t know, the facts!

I’m not going mad, am I?

JH

P.S. I have, and have greatly enjoyed, your work on cholesterol for quite some time. 

Anthony replies:

Hi James,

no, you’re not going mad.

Before I talk about Contador, I have to say one thing: I think the whole drug testing situation as it stands is an absolute joke.

They test the winner, who then tests positive and loses his title, which then goes to the runner-up, who everyone inside the sport of cycling knows with 99% probability was also doping. But the runner up never gets tested which somehow makes it all OK.

I guess they don’t test everybody who raced on a particular day because then there’d be hardly anyone left to give the prize too.

Oh, I’m sorry…did I just say something I wasn’t supposed to? It’s about time people woke up and realized you don’t pound up and down mountains and go time trialling flat out across the plains of France for 3 weeks straight on nothing more than pasta and Gatorade. Most of these upstanding armchair moralists can’t even put their booze and ciggies down long enough to ride their fat asses up Greenhill Road, yet they belittle hard-training, world-class athletes for doing what they must in order to remain competitive?

Wankers.

As for those within the cycling community who piss and moan about ergogenic drug-using cyclists, let’s see them pound across France for 3 weeks straight on nothing more than pasta and hot air, and let us observe how many of them finish anywhere near the ass end of the peleton…

Until sports authorities have fairer ways of monitoring drug use, then they should stop administering the tests and punishments in a manner that unfairly ostracizes one rider and makes him a scapegoat, when in reality he’s just doing what everyone else he’s competing against is also doing. He’s doing what he needs to do to stay relevant in competition. The organizers ignore this and make a big show of outing one particular rider when he’s unlucky enough to flunk a test.

“Hey, look at us, we’re trying hard to clean up the sport!” No, you’re putting on a load of theatrical PR bullshit, and you’re not above ruining an athlete’s career to do it.

As for Contador, his reasoning was plausible and, if the system was based on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, they should have let him go because there is NO proof he deliberately and knowingly took clenbuterol. They claim to have tested meat from the source his allegedly contaminated meat came from, and that it tested negative. But Farmer Raoul could have quickly cleaned out the clen from his vet supplies box and stopped giving it to his livestock after the initial kerfuffle over Contador’s positive test. Not meaning to cast aspersions on the hard-working farmers of Spain, but why should Contador cop the fallout for an unprovable offense? The fact remains they could not go back in time and test the actual cut of meat that Contador ate.

As for him deliberately using clenbuterol for a performance advantage…he had a miniscule amount in his bloodstream, an amount that most other sports organizations wouldn’t even waste their time over. And let’s not talk about how, even when taken in meaningful doses, clen is a crap ergogenic. It significantly raises body temperature and heartbeat…yep, just what an athlete needs as he’s struggling up a mountain in scorching heat!

The other possibility is that, at some point leading up to the race, Contador’s body weight wasn’t on target and he took some clen prior to the TDF to strip some fat off. But given that he was coming off a Giro win, and that clen has a very short half-life, this doesn’t make sense either.

The other possibility is that the testing was a screw-up. If you’ve ever read Landis’s book, you’ll know that there are serious concerns about the quality of testing in some European labs.

Bottom line: Stripping an athlete of the TDF and Giro titles he worked so hard for, over a trivial amount of serum clen they cannot even begin to prove he took deliberately, is bullshit.

And the people gloating over Contador’s loss and dumping all over him like he’s the devil incarnate are no doubt predominantly a bunch of jealous non-achievers. Andy Schleck, not an armchair tosser but one of the current crop of world’s best road cyclists, said that he takes no pleasure in Contador’s suspension, even though the 2010 TDF title gets handed to him:

“First of all I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. This is just a very sad day for cycling….”If now (sic) I am declared overall winner of the 2010 Tour de France it will not make me happy. I battled with Contador in that race and I lost.

“My goal is to win the Tour de France in a sportive (sic) way, being the best of all competitors, not in court.

“If I succeed this year, I will consider it my first Tour victory.”[1]

Unlike the shrill Internet experts who revel in reviling Contador, Andy showed a tonne of class when he made those comments.

Even the greatest road cyclist of all time, Eddy “The Cannibal” Mercx, is disgusted with the way things have transpired.

“It’s a sad day for Alberto Contador, it’s a sad day for cycling,” he told Eurosport.

Merckx, who himself had tested positive in controversial circumstances during his career which saw him win 475 races, believes the trace amount of clebuterol found in Contador’s urine – 50 picograms per litre, a far lower level than most anti-doping labs are able to detect – means the Spaniard should have been acquitted.

“I think we’re going too far,” Merckx said.

“The level of the (doping) control was incredibly low, and it’s only in cycling that this kind of thing can happen.

“It’s a terrible thing,” he added. “Alberto Contador has won a lot of competitions (races), not just the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, we saw the way he rode the Giro last year, he doesn’t deserve this.

“I’m the first to say that we need good anti-doping tests,” Merckx said.

“But I think that in cycling they go too far.”[1]

I don’t claim to have an answer to the drugs-in-sport problem, but I do know that as long as there are performance enhancing drugs, and until there is foolproof testing (which will quite possibly be never), then there will always be drug use in sport. As such, authorities and the public should seriously consider the virtues of  harm minimization strategies. As an example, since the introduction of the hematocrit limits aimed at curbing EPO use, riders have reportedly switched to “microdosing”. This change in tactic has been accompanied by a cessation in the string of deaths linked to EPO use in the late 90s and early 2000s.  If athletes insist on using these drugs, and they will, then why not monitor them and ensure as much as possible that they are doing so in a manner that will pose minimal or no threat (or even possible benefit) to their health?

And for those of you who piously scoff that performance enhancing drugs could ever be anything other than evil, health-destroying agents, then it’s time to pull your head out of your ass. Judicious use of testosterone and HGH, for example is routinely used by enlightened physicians to help prevent the muscle and bone loss associated with aging.

And when a cyclist can come back from the ravages of cancer and win 7 Tour de France titles, instead of pissing and moaning that he was an EPO-using cheat and launching idiotic criminal investigations to prove as much, how about diverting the money into research to examine whether judicious doses of EPO can be used to help alleviate the debilitating fatigue commonly suffered by cancer patients, and to accelerate their recovery after treatment?

When someone like Sylvester Stallone uses testosterone and HGH to keep in amazing physical condition for a man in his 60s, instead of turning green with envy and dismissing him as a “juicehead” to make yourself feel better about your own sloppy physical condition, how about campaigning for further research into the anti-aging effects of these drugs, so you too may one day be able to legally use them for your own benefit? If it’s OK for doctors to prescribe poorly studied doses of HRT to women, why not judicious doses of testosterone to aging men?

Not only would such a harm minimization strategy be much fairer than the current idiotic scenario in which individual athletes are caught, not because they are isolated bad apples, but because they were unlucky enough to be tested at the wrong time; it would also provide potential flow-on benefits in terms of health and medical knowledge to the general public.

But of course, this would require a widespread embrace of common sense instead of shrill finger-pointing, it would require people to discard the high-and-mighty moralizing that allows them to feel better about their own physical inferiority, and it would require doping authorities and politicians to relinquish a lucrative soapbox.

Whether the general public and sports authorities have the maturity and sense of reason to even consider such a course remains to be seen.

I won’t be holding my breath…

Cheers,

Anthony.

References

1. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/sport/merckx-slams-contador-ban/story-fn8sc2wz-1226264230174

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