SAVONA, Italy (VN) — Australian Michael Rogers returned to the top of the peloton today, after a lengthy pause in racing due to testing positive for clenbuterol in October, only to be cleared of any wrongdoing just weeks before the start of the Giro d’Italia.
As the peloton raced towards Savona, the Tinkoff-Saxo rider attacked solo and held on for the win in the seaside Ligurian town with 10 seconds to spare.
“To win again after the suspension is very special,” Rogers said. “During that time, I just kept living like a professional rider. I put my head down, I kept the faith, and I believed in myself.”
Rogers launched his attack 18 kilometers from the finish in the hills north of Savona. The group had just caught his teammates that were in the early move, and the last remaining escapee, Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing).
He held onto a 30-second advantage through the curves that led to the seaside town. He lost some time in the final five kilometers, but still had a buffer to celebrate.
The celebration came after a six-month temporary suspension. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced he tested positive for clenbuterol, a weight-loss drug, after he won the Japan Cup on October 20. Complicating matters, Rogers had raced the Tour of Beijing five days prior to racing in Japan; China has been notorious for its livestock being injected with clenbuterol to produce leaner meat.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had warned athletes and sporting federations about the dangers of competing in China and Mexico. Farmers in those countries sometimes use clenbuterol with its cattle production, as it produces leaner meat.
“Clenbuterol is an issue in a couple of countries because cattle and other animals are being fed with it,” WADA’s director general, David Howman told VeloNews. “We’ve got that under the radar and we are conducting several research projects to see where we can get to a situation where clenbuterol, if detected in a sample, can be shown to be taken through food or not.”
The rules, however, put the responsibility on the athlete’s shoulders. Rogers had to defend himself, but refused to say how much it cost him in lawyer fees.
“Every case is different. I learned to just focus on my case and not try to understand it all; WADA and the UCI has experts for that,” Rogers said. “I hope my case is useful for the other cyclists, but what I learned right away is that it’s difficult to understand what’s going on. Even WADA has a hard time dealing with it. I hope my case is useful to the system, but it’s complicated and every case has to be looked at separately.”
Alberto Contador, a teammate of Rogers on the Tinkoff-Saxo squad, tested positive for clenbuterol en route to winning the 2010 Tour de France. He claimed he ate a contaminated steak from Spain and argued it all the way to sport’s high court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). It ruled his positive was “likely [due to a] contaminated food supplement than by a blood transfusion or the ingestion of contaminated meat,” but still suspended him for two years and stripped his Tour de France title.
Rogers did not have to appeal to CAS because the UCI cleared him. On April 23, it said in a release that it, “found that that there was a significant probability that the presence of clenbuterol may have resulted from the consumption of contaminated meat from China.” It gave Rogers the green light to race immediately. He returned to race four days later in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Wednesday, raising his arms as he crossed the finish line in Savona, he won again for the first time since taking the Japan Cup.
As Rogers said, however, there are no clear results in clenbuterol cases.