Alberto Contador: Food Poisoning or Performance Enhancement?

We don’t know for sure whether cyclist Alberto Contador ingested a performance enhancing drug on a rest day during this year’s Tour de France, a tour he won for the third time and the second year in a row. Or, better put, we don’t know how, exactly, he ingested said substance found in his system that day. I’m not saying he’s guilty of doping, but the very fact that traces of substances that aid in performance are time and again found in athletes’ bodies always leaves us at the same place, listening to the who-me/never excuses of how whatever was found couldn’t possibly have gotten there on purpose. Look over there, puppies!

The affable, striking Contador won hearts and minds this year with his gracious victory, ceding the only stage he could have won to his closest competitor, backslapping his way through the weeks with complements aimed at his rivals, all the while displaying his elegant and effortless way on the bike, there was little not to like about the guy. Besides, with Lance Armstrong not a contender liking Contador wasn’t even unpatriotic. Contador was the year’s most beloved Spainard next to Iker Casillas (and you just can’t beat this, no matter how far, fast, or high you ride).

So now we hear that Contador might have taken a banned substance clenbuterol which helps increase lung capacity, increases metabolism, etc. etc. But, no, he says, it was the cut of meat he had the night before the test, must have been. “It is a clear case of food contamination,” he said yesterday, since clenbuterol is sometimes used (illegally) as a food additive for livestock to promote, of course, muscle growth. 

Contador is not the first to blame the meat we eat for a failed drug test. In 1999, Czech tennis player Petr Korda said veal was to blame for his positive test for anabolic steroids. Barry Bonds cried foul on flaxseed oil, cyclist Floyd Landis blamed too much Jack Daniels, and Andre Agassi insisted his assistant spiked his drink with meth. There was the Olympic snowboarder who inhaled pot at a party, and the soccer player who ended up with his girlfriend’s STD medicine where it shouldn’t be. And yet these are all athletes for whom the body is the temple. Supreme training regimens mean every calorie is accounted for, every action aimed at achieving total perfection and peak performance. And yet we are supposed to buy that they allowed trainers to rub them with a mystery gel without their knowledge, or that they fervently kissed a girl who had too much cocaine on her tongue. There’s so much danger out there athletes can barely breath without getting what turns out to be an unfair advantage.

Sure, Contador may be innocent (and anabolic steroids clenbuterol is not) but his accused forefathers leave a shoddy track record with which he must contend. In the steroid-excuse game a cry of food poisoning surprises no one, and neither would the ultimate revelation that another incredible athlete had a little help.


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