Alberto Contador and allegations leveled by Floyd Landis against Lance Armstrong and other top North American pros headlined another busy season on the doping front in 2010 that also saw the biological passport program come under fire from some who say it too subjective to be used as a stand-alone tool to impose bans.
There were plenty of doping cases to keep the cynics happy throughout 2010 — including outrageous claims leveled against Fabian Cancellara that he used a motorized bike to pull off the Flanders-Roubaix double — but none garnered as much attention as Contador and his insistence that steaks brought to France from Spain for a rest-day feast prompted him to test positive for traces of clenbuterol.
Plenty of eyes rolled at that argument, but Contador’s legal team says they have strong evidence to back their claims that food contamination is possible to trigger a positive. Others suggested that the clenbuterol entered Contador’s system through a blood transfusion that included traces of the drug from an earlier doping cycle, something Contador strongly denies.
Despite assurances by the UCI that there would be a speedy conclusion to the Contador case, it’s nearly 2011 and there’s still no decision from a four-member disciplinary panel at the Spanish cycling federation. A ruling could come by mid-January, but a challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is highly likely, meaning that the case could remain unresolved by July’s Tour de France.
In May, Landis made headlines around the world when he accused seven-time Tour champion Armstrong and other members of his former U.S. Postal Service team of organized doping, charges that Armstrong and team officials vehemently deny.
Landis, who tested positive for synthetic testosterone and was later disqualified from his 2006 Tour de France victory, went public in May in a series of detailed e-mails outlining alleged doping practices. He backed up those claims in a series of high-profile media interviews, with Nightline and the Wall Street Journal, saying that he was weary of living with the lie that he didn’t dope.
Landis’s allegations helped fuel an investigation by Food and Drug Administration investigator Jeff Novitzky into alleged doping practices at the former U.S. Postal Service team. This story is far from over and will likely dominate the coming year if federal indictments are handed down.
The UCI’s biological passport continued to make waves in another major story in 2010.
Testing data collected during the ground-breaking program, introduced in 2008 to track biological markers in individual riders over time, has been an effective weapon against dopers when it’s used for target testing of suspicious athletes. There’s still quite a bit of contention, however, when it’s used as a mechanism to impose racing bans and that question really come into focus in 2010.
The early part of the year saw confirmation of bans to Francesco De Bonis, Pietro Caucchioli and Riccardo Serrano, who were part of the first wave of passport bans in 2009 for abnormal levels.
In May, the UCI announced that Franco Pellizotti, Jesus Rosendo and Tadej Valjavec returned irregular blood values and were provisionally banned. All three were eventually cleared by their respective national cycling federations for what they called a lack of clear evidence. The UCI has yet to decide if it will appeal those cases.
Defenders of the program say bans are only issued in clear cases of manipulation, but detractors say the data is are too subjective and that riders should only be banned when there’s a positive doping case.
Some of the other top doping stories in 2010 included:
• Alejandro Valverde was finally banned for links dating back to the 2006 Operación Puerto doping scandal, something he continues to deny. Italian officials banned him from racing in Italy after they matched blood taken during controls in the 2008 Tour de France to blood bags confiscated during OP police raids that were laced with EPO and later DNA-matched to Valverde. On May 31, WADA and the UCI won a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport to extend that ban worldwide, meaning that Valverde is sidelined for two years starting from January 1, 2010. All 2010 results up to the court decision were also nullified. A defiant Valverde said in an interview this month with Meta2Mil in Spain he will come back: “They stopped from me from racing when I was No. 1 in the world and when I come back, I will be it again.”
• Chinese rider Li Fuyu of RadioShack tested positive for clenbuterol during the Dwars door Vlaanderen on March 23. The 32-year-old was later banned for two years despite his claims that he tested positive due to eating tainted meat, an argument that few paid much attention to until Contador’s case erupted in late August. In another clebuterol case, Alessandro Colo of Italy was given a reduced, one-year ban after testing positive during the Tour of Mexico.
• Despite increased testing and a reliable detection method, EPO remains a drug of choice in large part because it’s one of the most reliable and most effective performance-enhancing doping products out there. There were nearly a dozen EPO cases in 2010, including three-time world mountain bike champion Marga Fullana and David García, who was caught during the Vuelta a España. Others to get nabbed included Thomas Frei during the Giro di Trentino while Mickael Larpe and Roy Sentjens were both caught in out-of-competition controls. Gabriele Bosisio was banned for two years from a test conducted in 2009 while Niklas Axelsson tested positive for a second time and banned for life.
• Polish brothers Pawel and Kacper Szczepaniak, who roared to silver and bronze in the U23 race at the 2010 cyclo-cross world championships in Tabor, Czech Republic, tested positive for EPO. Pawel later admitted that the brothers naively believed they were taking vitamins and said they were driven to dope to pull their family out of poverty in Poland, where their father drives a bus for $300 a month. “My life is destroyed,” Pawel told Het Laatste Nieuws in Belgium. “I stopped my school studies because I couldn’t combine it with top-level competition … where can I find work? You can’t believe how much guilt I feel — against my family, but especially against Kacper. Now he’s a wreck. He almost doesn’t eat, he sleeps all day, sitting on the sofa and staring in front of him.”
• Hydroxyethyl starches made headlines in 2010 when Oscar Sevilla and Vuelta runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera both tested positive in separate incidents for the banned blood expander allegedly used as a masking agent for EPO as well as a mechanism to allow blood to better transport oxygen. Sevilla, who was also linked to Operación Puerto, has been provisionally suspended while Mosquera’s status remains in limbo and remains registered to race with Vacansoleil in 2011.
• Rui Costa — who made headlines of a different kind in July when he got into finish-line fisticuffs with Carlos Barredo in stage 6 at the Tour de France — tested positive with his brother, Mario, for methylhexanamine during the Portuguese national championships in June. The Costa brothers claim that the drug entered their system from a tainted dietary product.