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Blood Doping Research Linked to Contador Probe Is Halted

Anti-doping officials rejected a proposal to develop a test to find the improper use of blood transfusions, a method linked to the case of three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.

Barcelona-based professor Jordi Segura asked the World Anti-Doping Agency for funds to help validate the test, which looks for residue from plastic intravenous bags, a technique the New York Times said last year was used to investigate Contador.

WADA, which financed $50 million of research projects since 2001, turned down the grant application because there are “alternative ways” to collect evidence of transfusions, agency spokesman Terence O’Rorke said in an e-mail. An athlete can illegally boost stamina by re-infusing blood because it increases the volume of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

WADA is appealing Contador’s acquittal for doping at the 2010 Tour at a four-day hearing that starts Nov. 21. Other researchers may be working on a molecular or genetic-based test that the agency sees as more effective, according to Robin Parisotto, a scientist who reviewed about a dozen grant applications for WADA. Segura’s project may be fallible because it’s difficult to prove residue comes from IV bags and not food packaging, Parisotto added.

“We are all going to have some sort of plastic floating around our system, whether it’s from drinking from plastic bottles or eating food from plastic wrappings,” Parisotto said by phone from Canberra, Australia.

German, Swiss Funding

In December last year, Segura and a group of 12 researchers published a preliminary study that found the concentration of residue from a plasticizer known as DEHP was significantly higher after a transfusion. That project was funded by organizations including Germany’s Interior Ministry and Swiss anti-doping authorities.

The research won a sports science prize in Spain and was published by “three or four” medical journals, Segura said by phone from Barcelona. It gained prominence after the New York Times reported Contador’s positive test for banned drug clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour could have followed a transfusion because in one of his urine samples there was eight times as much plasticizer than usual.

Contador denies ever transfusing blood to boost performance. WADA has declined to comment on the report. The agency would need to approve a test for it to become part of anti-doping rules in sports. Segura said he currently has no plans to pursue the project.

‘Another Path’

Contador blames the clenbuterol reading on eating contaminated beef and was cleared of wrongdoing by the Spanish cycling federation. WADA and the Union Cycliste Internationale, cycling’s ruling body, are appealing the acquittal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the top sports tribunal based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Contador won the three-week Tour de France in 2007, 2009 and 2010. He finished fifth this year, almost four minutes behind winner Cadel Evans of Australia. Contador’s spokesman Jacinto Vidarte declined to comment on WADA’s decision not to fund the research.

Mario Thevis, a professor at German Sports University in Cologne who helped with Segura’s initial research, said he was surprised at the agency’s move.

“It seems they have chosen another path,” Thevis said.

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