Contador and My Interest in Cycling

My interest in pro bike racing is pretty much confined to the Tour de France. I’ve been watching the Tour for the last four years, attracted mainly by the scenic shots of France – the chateaus, the medieval walled towns, the modern and old  parts of the cities. I’ve even posted brief descriptions of the team jerseys for the Tour, to explain who those sponsors are that no one’s ever heard of.

But I’ve never been able to psych myself up to watch the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a Espana.  Or the one-day classics at the beginning of the season. Or the lesser stage races in other countries. So take my opinions here for what they’re worth, coming from an uninformed cyclist.

The news that Alberto Contador has been exculpated in his doping case isn’t all that surprising. The Spanish Cycling Federation ruled that the trace amount of clenbuterol found in his system during a rest day at the 2010 Tour de France was ingested unintentionally.

Both the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ban the use of clenbuterol by athletes; it increases muscle mass and reduces fat. The Drug Enforcement Administration says athletes typically take 60-120 micrograms per day. Contador is accused of having 50 picograms of the drug in his system. A picogram is about half the size of a microgram.

Now, you might dislike Contador, going back to his feud with Lance when they were both on the Astana team. But to me, his story is plausible. Although the European Union prohibits the use of clenbuterol in food-producing animals, it is known to be illicitly used to increase the leanness of meat in livestock. The US Dept. of Agriculture says people in Spain, France, Italy and elsewhere have become sick after eating meat tainted with clenbuterol.

You might also demand that a zero-tolerance drug policy be rigorously enforced by the powers that be in cycling – that if anyone is found with any concentration of illicit drugs in their system, they’re out. But hot on the heels of the Contador decision comes the news that the British Sky cycling team is backing off from its zero-tolerance drug policy. It seems that all the best coaches in the sport have some involvement with illegal doping in their past. Sky is apparently hoping these folks will be clean when they come to work for Sky, but that cloud will always hang over their heads.

Oh, and if Contador is not going to be penalized for clenbuterol, what about Chinese rider Li Fuyu, who rides for Radioshack? He is also under suspension for testing positive for “clen” in a race.

It’s just too hard to keep up with it all. And keeping up with it isn’t very rewarding. My conclusion: The whole system is corrupt. And as such, it does not deserve my support, or my interest. I won’t be watching the Tour this summer, or any other bike race. One of the reasons I ride is to be healthy. When cycling tolerates the use of banned substances, it is undermining the health benefits, and sending a disturbing message to fans and non-fans all over the world.


  1. Cliff says

    Real sorry to hear that, there are few enough cycle race watchers as it is.

    I am very upset by the move by the Spanish to ignore the zero tolerance rule, I do not understand how if the positive was from tainted meat only one rider tests positive, shouldn’t everyone that ate with him be positive? Be that as it may, Cycling is the only sport that tests it’s athletes, yes there was a big blow up in baseball a few years ago, they found two or three “juicers” made examples of them, (all of them at the end of there career) and then quit looking. I have a hard time believing that American football is drug free. Even in Texas, we are now abandoning testing because “there were too few positives” could that be because they didn’t want to get caught in the testing?

    Cycling has not done that. Cycling has been, and is, working to get all the users and make them clean, it needs the support of all of the international groups to work though unfortunately, the Spanish desire to have a hero rather than a clean rider is not helping.

  2. RamonH says

    I like the way one of my buddies put it: “Of course there systemic doping and drugs in the sport, and all of them are doing some to some degree. That is why we feel so inept and fall extremely short when wanting to conquer the world during our rides and races with a banana and hammergel in our stomachs!”

  3. says

    I didn’t even waste my energy on a blog post about it. The whole situation is a mess. Period. There are too many competing interests, powers, and political games within the realm of pro cycling to actually make any headway in getting the drugs out and cleaning up the sport. Riders are still popping positive even after the tighter restrictions and better testing (supposedly) over the last several years. Screw’em. I’ll continue to ride for my health and enjoy the sport of cycling I know. Will I watch it on TV? I probably won’t be able to resist the urge but I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle the discussion on drugs and/or Contador that will more than likely dominate the broadcasts.

  4. says

    This is hardly new. Professional cycling is an endurance sport and has therefore seen its athletes use all manner of drugs to enhance performance for over 100 years. For decades, cyclists have suffered hallucinations, numbness, exhaustion, unusually-high numbers of heart attacks, and all sorts of debilitating health conditions. All of the all-time greats (Taylor, Merckx, Ullrich, Armstrong, Contador, etc…) have been implicated, caught, or admitted to taking drugs. For decades, cyclists have written confessionals which describe the lengths they go to take and use the drugs and conceal their use. Each year, many many cyclists are caught. Entire teams are disqualified. And yet we seem surprised each and every time it occurs.

    At the professional level, the sport is what it always has been. To expect otherwise is to expect a change from a century-old condition.

  5. Glenn says

    Nice post. Cycling has always been, and will continue to be, its own reward for most cyclists who have minimal or no interest in these shennanigans. Like going for a hit of tennis, or a round of golf, all good fun without a backward glance at Nastase or Tommy Bolt.

  6. says

    I couldn’t agree more, But you shouldn’t let things like this stop you doing what you really enjoy, keep at it and you will find that great energy and things win through in the end. Keep on posting too, I love reading your stuff.

  7. says

    Totally understand, we have given up watching “ANY” Pro sport, ultra-rich, spoiled, and what seem’s constantly in trouble. “The Love of the Game, my A$$, it’s all about the MONEY from the bottom to the top and we call these morons, HEROS, not me. JMHO, YMMV.

  8. says

    I have little doubt that if someone in any sport does not do this stuff, we would never know their names. There is too much competition for the tens of millions of dollars for the athletes to try to play without “the edge”.

    There are doctors that know how to beat the testing and they are very well paid by the sponsors and teams in all sports. I doubt that any athlete who does not participate is in the professional ranks.

  9. Jeff says

    Don’t like it in any sport, but just for a little perspective, an NBA star recently tested positive for steroids and got a 10-day suspension and relatively little media coverage. A cyclist tests positive and gets 1-2 years and tons of the “sport is dirty” media coverage. Like everyone else I wish it could get cleaned up, but I also get tired of people portraying cycling as such a dirty sport, when I’m afraid it’s pervasive throughout all sports. Just look at all the big baseball stars that we used to look up to and kids would idolize.

    Sucks all around, but still, I’m looking forward to watching the Tour. I think there’s some exciting guys in the new generation of riders, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

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