Tour De France Champ Blames Meat For Drug Result

Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador says contaminated meat was the culprit behind his positive drug test during this year's Tour de France — which he won. Now, Contador could be facing the loss of that title, and a two-year ban from cycling. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Dr. Don Catlin, founder of the nonprofit Anti-Doping Research in Los Angeles.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

He's blaming it on the steak.

Mr. ALBERTO CONTADOR (Professional Cyclist): (Spanish spoken)

The champion Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador says contaminated meat was the culprit behind his positive drug test during this year's Tour de France, which he won. Now, Contador could be facing the loss of that title and a two-year ban from cycling.

We're going to talk about this with Dr. Don Catlin, an expert on drug testing and doping in sports. He's with the nonprofit group Anti-Doping Research in L.A.

Welcome to the program.

Dr. DON CATLIN (Anti-Doping Research): Thank you.

BLOCK: And Dr. Catlin, the drug in question here is clenbuterol. What is it? How does it work?

Dr. CATLIN: It's a stimulant. You know, it can make you feel sort of a little bit shaky or like you had too much coffee and pedal faster. Or it can improve your strength, and therefore your endurance. But it has anabolic actions in people and in animals. It's used a lot in animals to put weight on them.

BLOCK: And Alberto Contador is blaming, as we said, the steak he ate during the Tour de France. It was brought in, apparently, for team's chef, from Spain. Why would it be in meat?

Dr. CATLIN: Well, the animal would have been treated with clenbuterol. Now, that's not supposed to happen, believe me. And the world is pretty careful about that, because toxicity that people get from eating tainted meat can be pretty bad.

BLOCK: Hmm. Well, the International Cycling Union, the UCI, says Contador's urine sample taken during the race showed clenbuterol at a concentration of 50 picograms per milliliter. Would that be enough to improve his performance in the Tour de France?

Dr. CATLIN: That's an almost impossible question. Generally, I would say no. It's a very small amount. Unfortunately, WADA - the group that organizes all this - can't really say what concentration you need to have an effect. So a lot of times, athletes have it in their system, various drugs, and they get thrown out even though they were not enhanced by it.

BLOCK: Does the level of clenbuterol in Contador's urine sample indicate anything to you about how he might have had that drug in his system?

Dr. CATLIN: It's a very small amount, so it strongly suggests that he didn't take a tablet of it, that it was contamination. But it doesn't tell you where the contamination comes from.

BLOCK: How would Alberto Contador go about trying to prove that this did end up in his system unintentionally, through something he ate? How do you prove that?

Dr. CATLIN: He's going to have a really tough job. The best way is to look at his friends who were eating at the same training table. But I understand that they don't have that information now.

BLOCK: Right. He was the only tested of that group, apparently. If I understand this right, his Tour de France title could be stripped from him even it was unintentional that this drug was in his system, right?

Dr. CATLIN: Yeah. Unfortunately, the rules today are the athlete is responsible for whatever is in their urine. And if it's a banned substance, you're out for two years, and that's pretty much it. I will say, however, that this case is going to cause a lot of consternation, and they're going to be reviewing the rules for sure.

BLOCK: Dr. Catlin, thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. CATLIN: OK. Thanks for calling.

BLOCK: Don Catlin is with the nonprofit group Anti-Doping Research in Los Angeles. We were speaking about the positive drug test for Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.

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