The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appears to have severely undermined Alberto Contador’s insistence that he ate meat contaminated with the clenbuterol that caused his positive test during the Tour de France. In a report presented to the UCI and then passed on to the Spanish cycling federation, WADA says that it has tested meat from the butcher’s shop in Irún in northern Spain where Contador’s steak was bought and found no traces of clenbuterol. Similar tests at the abattoir that supplies the Irún butcher’s also found no trace of clenbuterol use.
The report, one of several passed on to the Spanish federation’s competitions’ committee that will pass judgment on Contador, has been seen by Spanish newspaper El País. The Madrid paper’s well-respected cycling correspondent, Carlos Arribas, describes the report as “the Tourmalet, the mountain, the biggest difficulty that Contador will ever have to overcome to prove his innocence” because it strikes so hard what is believed to be the fundamental part of his defence.
According to the report, WADA found absolutely no trace of clenbuterol in the meat they tested in Irún, where Vuelta a Castilla y León organizer José Luis López Cerrón bought the steak that Contador and some of his team-mates ate in Pau on July 20 and 21.
Clenbuterol, the use of which is prohibited in livestock, has been illegally employed by some breeders to increase muscle and reduce fat levels in cattle before they go for slaughter. The downside of this, says El País, is that the resulting meat tends to be tougher.
WADA is also reported to have supplied a report from the European Union into the analysis of almost 300,000 meat samples that were tested during 2008. Only a single sample showed even the possibility of contamination with clenbuterol.
They have also passed on a study by the Veterinary Institute at Zagreb’s Faculty of Food Technology, published in the June edition of the magazine Meat Science, that details how long clenbuterol stays active after being injected into pigs. According to this study, a pig injected with clenbuterol and then slaughtered the next day would contain almost 5 nanograms of clenbuterol per gram, which is enough to deliver a reading 100 times greater than that found in Contador’s sample. A week on, there would still be enough clenbuterol in the meat to produce a positive test. Two weeks on, the levels of clenbuterol would be below the levels tested for in dope controls.
According to El País, WADA’s document also states: “Evidently, the cattle breeders who are breaking the rules don’t slaughter animals that have been illegally fattened up until 20 days have passed since the last dose of clenbuterol for two reasons: firstly to avoid being caught in controls carried out on meat and also to allow the anabolic steroid to have its full effect in fattening up the meat.
The document concludes that Contador’s test results show that minimal amounts of clenbuterol had been ingested, but that they did not come from meat that had possibly been contaminated.
The report also points out that although Contador does have certificates that allow him to use treatments for asthma as a bronchodilator, clenbuterol is not one of them.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).