Three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador was suspended after testing positive for a banned substance in winning this year’s race. He said it’s a “clear case” of food contamination.
The Spaniard’s urine sample on the last rest day of the three-week event showed a “very small concentration” of clenbuterol, the International Cycling Union, or UCI, said in a statement. Clenbuterol treats respiratory disorders such as asthma and can increase aerobic capacity by increasing the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream.
The amount found was 1/400th of what World Anti-Doping Agency laboratories are required to detect, the UCI said. Contador said the positive test came after he ate beef brought by a friend from Spain. Two doctors who work for cycling authorities said in interviews the amount wouldn’t have been enough to boost his performance.
“I’m sad, disappointed but with my head held high,” Contador told reporters at a hotel in his hometown of Pinto on the outskirts of Madrid. “It’s a clear case of food contamination. I won’t tolerate any sanction.”
It’s the latest scandal involving the Tour de France. The 2006 winner Floyd Landis became the first rider to be stripped of the title when he was found to have elevated levels of synthetic testosterone near the end of the race. Landis denied doping until this year when he confessed to cheating several times during his career.
Paris-based Amaury Sport Organisation, which runs the Tour de France, said in a statement Contador’s case requires more scientific research before “any conclusion’” is reached. The Aigle, Switzerland-based UCI said it suspended Contador pending the work that “may take some time.”
“The UCI continues working with the scientific support of WADA to analyze all the elements that are relevant to the case,” the organization said.
Contador said he was brought the meat by Jose Luis Lopez Cerron, who organizes Spain’s Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, and was among five members of his Astana squad to eat it after it was prepared by a team chef. He said the other four riders weren’t tested on the same day.
Contador spent the last rest day on July 21 at a three-star Novotel hotel in a suburb of Pau, southwest France. At the time, Contador led by 8 seconds over Andy Schleck. Luxembourg’s Schleck said the following day was his last chance to win the race on a climb to the Col du Tourmalet mountain pass.
Contador matched several attacks by Schleck on the ascent, ending right behind him. As expected, Contador extended his overall lead in a time trial two days later to win by 39 seconds.
The amount of the drug in Contador’s urine would have been too small to boost his riding, according to two doctors who work for cycling authorities.
One of the doctors said it was “impossible” the amount of clenbuterol could boost performance and the other said he would “doubt very much” it would have helped Contador’s aerobic capacity. The doctors spoke on condition of anonymity because they said they may become involved in the UCI’s investigation.
The drug is illegally used to bulk up cattle, and several athletes have defended themselves after testing positive by saying they ingested it by eating meat or in a food supplement, according to the doctors.
Contador’s friend Lopez Cerron said in a phone interview he bought 3.5 kilos of beef in Irun, northern Spain, on the way to the Tour following a request by Astana chef Paco Olalla. He gave the receipt to the team to claim back as expenses, he said.
Landis offered several explanations in the days after his failed drug test at the 2006 race became public, including drinking whisky. “My version won’t change in any circumstance,” Contador said, his voice breaking up with emotion.
Contador rode for Kazakhstan-backed Astana since 2008. Last month, he agreed to join former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis’s Team Saxo Bank on a two-year contract from 2011. Contador was among nine riders excluded from the 2006 Tour after being linked to a blood-doping ring by Spanish police. He was later cleared of wrongdoing.
Swimmer Jessica Hardy left the U.S. Olympic team in 2008 after testing positive for clenbuterol and eventually got a one- year suspension.
Athletes in tennis, weightlifting and rugby also have tested positive for the substance. In 1997, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov of Uzbekistan was expelled from the Tour de France after testing positive for clenbuterol.
Two More Cases
Also today, the UCI said Tour of Spain runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera tested positive for a banned substance. He and a second Spanish rider, David Garcia Da Pena, had an “adverse analytical finding” of hydroxyethyl starch in urine samples taken Sept. 16, the UCI said.
Mosquera will hold a news conference in his hometown of Teo, Spain, today and Garcia Da Pena may release a statement, Pepe Xagaros, a spokesman for their Xacobeo-Galicia team, said by phone. The team has no immediate comment, he added.
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