Tour de France - Blazin' Saddles: Albuterol Clentador

Thu, 30 Sep 18:58:00 2010

Is Saddles the only one to think that the latest doping scandal to tarnish cycling contains more hot air than a weekend with the Mongolfier brothers?

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Put simply, Contador's positive is the biggest non-story since Riccardo Ricco decided to store 50 Paracetamols in an unmarked bag at the bottom of a drawer in his house.

No, honestly: it's ludicrous. The miniscule amount of clenbuterol detected - we're talking 50 picograms (or 0.00000000005 grams per ml) - is consistent with the idea that El Pistelero inadvertently digested the banned substance.

The Spaniard passed doping tests on the three days leading up to the fateful failed test on the second Tour rest day in Pau - and why would anyone (especially a rider as savvy as Contador) risk everything taking a drug that has next to no performance-related benefits on a day he wasn't even putting in a shift? It's nonsensical.

So what is clenbuterol? It's a bronchodilator similar to the asthma drug salbutamol (or Petacchi Puff, as it has come to be known). It's also goes under the brand name of Ventipulmin - a drug used for the treatment of horses suffering from breathing disorders. In all likelihood the only sportsman it could actually benefit is Ruud van Nistelrooy.

But when the news first broke, agencies naturally took it upon themselves to describe clenbuterol as a vicious banned substance that can be used to help lose weight (Contador's no porky, even if he's telling a few pork pies), help breathing and boost performance by increasing strength.

Some people probably went as far as to suggest that 50 picograms of the stuff would be the difference between keeping one's chain on one's bike and making a fool of oneself changing the gear while out of the saddle.

But all this is prime Spanish bull. Ok, of course Contador was always going to poo-poo any alleged benefits of the drug during his near-tearful press conference in his hometown of Pinto. What of a neutral point of view from someone in the know?

"There's no justifiable benefit to be derived from clenbuterol that is worth the risk testing positive for it," says Joe Papp, a former doped rider and current Blazin' Saddles fan.

"It produces terrible muscle cramps and tremors that would leave you considering suicide if taken during the Tour. I would know: I've tried it and I had to abandon the race. There's nothing redeeming about it even in the off season.

"Doping with clenbuterol is the equivalent of crushing and snorting Adderal as an alternative to cocaine - you're not going to get much of a hit. So why bother? If he did, what an idiot."

What is idiotic is that Contador and his team of lawyers have had six weeks to come up with a plausible excuse and then they have played the food contamination card.

That said, Bertie's tenuous explanation of how one of the Astana chefs bought some meat from a Spanish butchers on the way to Pau, cooked it on the day before the rest day, let it cool down, reheated it the next day and served it up - but only to Contador, mind, because the rest of the team wanted to eat later while Alexandre Vinokourov, that renowned vegetarian, didn't take a fancy to beef that night. . . is so ridiculous (Pau-thetic, even) that it can only be true.

And it helps that Contador has a signed note from one Dr Douwe de Boer confirming the traces must have come from "edible parts of cattle" (that's pretty much the whole beast, in Spain) - and that there's a PHD thesis doing the rounds online entitled "Tainted Meat: Clenbuterol Use in the Meat Industry".

It's no wonder Spain is experiencing a golden age in sport - the whole nation is unwittingly wolfing down micro doses of horse tranquilisers in their paella.

What's more, the Cologne laboratory which discovered these micro-doses is said to contain only one of four machines that can test for such miniscule levels. Further complications may arise with the suggestion that the machine in question was in fact the one purchased for the UCI thanks to a donation from Lance Armstrong, Contador's old foe.

That, like all good cuts of meat, has to be taken with a pinch of salt - just like the suggestion that Contador should have turned down the coffee and bacon roll offered to him when he dropped into the RadioShack team bus in the opening week of the Tour to give his old team-mate a watch as a present.

Besides Contador himself, the man everyone wanted to get hold since the scandal broke has been Bjarne Riis, who recently signed the Spaniard for his Saxo Bank-Sunguard squad.

The big Dane has not been answering his phone - rumour has it it's because he's been on the blower all day trying to get in contact with Andy Schleck to ask him out for a conciliatory drink on his return from the world championships in Australia.

One thing is certain: the Contador saga will drag on and on - and even if the Spaniard is cleared (the likely outcome, surely) his name and the sport will be somewhat tarnished. Good steaks go down well - but everyone remembers an overcooked cut of beef.

More disturbing is the news that Vuelta runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera and his Xacobeo-Galicia team-mate David Garcia Da Pena both tested positive for banned plasma substitute hydroxyethyl taken during Tour of Spain.

Who would have thought: a Spanish veteran riding for a second-tier Spanish team and almost winning the Vuelta after no previous Grand Tour podiums, eh?

Mosquera had just signed a two-year deal with Vacansoleil, the Dutch team who recently gave former banned EPO cheat Riccardo Ricco a lifeline.

It will come as a double blow then that it also emerged today that Italian investigators discovered at least 50 suspicious tablets at Ricco's home in Modena.

As the cycling world awaits news of Mosquera's B sample and the analysis of the Cobra's pills, the HR and Recruitment Manager at Vacansoleil must surely be sweating like a Spanish cattle farmer - after all, he or she has about as much prospects of reemployment as the Astana head chef.

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