Matt Rendell asks: What do we really learn from the Court of Arbitration for Sport's judgment on the Alberto Contador case?
There are several things we learned from the CAS ruling against Alberto Contador, and several questions left unanswered.
We know how doctors use plasma and EPO to camouflage blood transfusions – this was explained to the authorities by Floyd Landis – and that for many working in the anti-doping movement blood doping is still widespread and current in cycling: Dr Ashenden mentions (paragraph 380) 'unequivocal evidence that cyclists harvest and store separate bags of red cells and plasma,' while WADA claims that 'the withdrawal of blood cells and plasma for later transfusion during a competition is an existing blood-doping practice in cycling.'
We know why Contador's team insisted on the contaminated meat theory. Eating meat that turned out to have been contaminated could not be characterised as reckless; it was one of the few scenarios that could have got him off the hook. The use of a contaminated food supplement – an alternative possibility raised by WADA and the UCI, and the hypothesis preferred, in the end, by the tribunal – is covered by Article 21 of the UCI's anti-doping regulations, which explicitly warns riders that they must 'refrain from using any substance foodstuff, food supplement or drink of which they do not know the composition ... the composition indicated on a product is not always complete.'
In other words, he knew he would not escape a sanction as the use of food supplements is never considered a fully exonerating explanation (paragraph 478).
What we don't know is whether he did anything wrong. In this, the judgment is unsatisfactory, leaning towards the hypothesis of a contaminated food supplement and away from the main theories of the parties to the trial, Contador's contaminated veal scenario and the blood transfusion story of the UCI and WADA.
The judgment does not rule out the blood transfusion theory: it simply finds it unlikely. Contador's expert haematologist is demonstrably mistaken elsewhere in his testimony regarding clenbuterol doses, mainly because he doesn't realise the drugs is used intravenously, as well as orally (paragraph 414). All he needed to do was leave the laboratory for a minute and read a blog or two written by bodybuilders who use the product (paragraph 417a).
Why then does the tribunal accept the same expert witness's claims that the plasma donor would have had to have been 'so dim-witted that he donated blood just hours after having taken 200 ug of a drug [clenbuterol] that is known to have a notoriously slow clearance time' (paragraph 432). In any case, if the clearance time is so slow, why the rush? This section of the judgment lacks credibility.
The tribunal admits that 'using blood transfusion in coordination with infusions of plasma and perhaps the services of a third person over a period of time as an accomplice for blood manipulations' means acting in a 'sophisticated and planned manner' (paragraphs 432 and 433). Yet, if Contador did do wrong – if Ashenden's blood transfusion theory is anything like correct – neither the tribunal, the UCI, nor WADA show any headway whatsoever in establishing who his co-conspirators might have been.
I have some sympathy for Contador. He has presumably been targeted for testing since the 2010 Tour. No hint of anything suspicious has reached the public domain. He has demonstrated that, assuming parity of conditions – most riders very slightly doped? – he is the best. He has shown astonishing resilience, and held himself with some dignity – not least in last year's Tour de France – in the face of immense pressure.
Given the minute quantities concerned my feeling is that in any other sport the case would never have come to light.
The fact remains Alberto Contador will not ride again competitively before 5 August 2012, and he will have to return all the 'medals, points and prizes' won during the 2010 Tour de France. Whether or not this includes the cuddly Credit Lyonnais lions has yet to be confirmed.
Read Part I of Matt Rendell's analysis of the Alberto Contador case here
Read the full CAS ruling here
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