Food supplements blamed for Tour de France clenbuterol doping scandal

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food supplements

Gimme two...(years that is)
Gimme two...(years that is)
An international court this month fingered food supplements as the most likely source of the banned stimulant clenbuterol in the blood of 2010 Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, even as a leading European testing service says it has never encountered the substance in 1000s of supplement tests.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ended the protracted saga on February 6 by handing Contador a two-year ban for the doping offence whilst proffering its view that contaminated food supplements were the likely culprit even though Contador’s legal team never used the defence.

The Spanish cyclist had blamed a contaminated piece of meat shipped into France from Spain.

CAS concluded, the Athlete’s positive test for clenbuterol is more likely to have been caused by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement than by a blood transfusion or the ingestion of contaminated meat.

It added its conclusion was bolstered by the fact Contador, took supplements in considerable amounts, that it is incontestable that supplements may be contaminated, that athletes have frequently tested positive in the past because of contaminated food supplements, that in the past an athlete has also tested positive for a food supplement contaminated with clenbuterol…

Never seen

UK-based third party product testing service, HFL Sport Science, said it tested 5000-6000 products per year and had never encountered clenbuterol contamination.

“We have seen no instances of contamination with clenbuterol,”​ said HFL spokesperson, Deborah Gaskell.

“However it's important to note that this doesn’t mean that clenbuterol contamination is not a problem in supplements as HFL Sport Science tests only a small sub-set of the population and these are from more reputable manufacturers who want to be part of an enhanced quality assurance scheme.”

The CAS verdict referenced the case of the US swimmer, Jessica Hardy, who blamed contaminated food supplements for her 2008 Beijing Olympics positive clenbuterol test but was still banned.


CAS suggested Contador’s contamination came from a supplement that was not on the approved list of 27 unnamed products provided by his team at the time, Astana, otherwise team mates would have tested positive for clenbuterol.

The European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM), which counts supplements manufacturers among its membership, affirmed that clenbuterol was not permitted in Europe and that reputable manufacturers had no use for it.

“If there were tainted supplements, they weren’t made here in Europe,”​ said EHPM European policy director, Cynthia Rousselot. “European products are clearly labelled as per regulations and this is a strict requirement for food supplement manufacturers. I would like to know where this product was purchased, if it exists.”

Rousselot acknowledged scrutiny of food supplements was mounting ahead of the London 2012 Olympiad, but noted projects in France, Italy and the Netherlands that were promoting the safety of food and sports supplements.

The supplements scenario

Consumption of contaminated supplements is no defence in doping cases, hence Contador’s team never resorting to it. During the hearing he said he stuck closely to the Astana team regime and said he never took any supplements on the rest day that produced the positive clenbuterol test in the 2010 Tour de France.

“I do not, and did not during the 2010 Tour, take any supplements other than those specifically checked by the doctor and made available through the team. I did not during the 2010 Tour take any supplements other than those [from the Astana-approved list],”​ Contador told the Court.

“The whole point of taking only what the team doctor has approved is to avoid any inadvertent contamination, and so I am rigorous in following this approach.”

During the case it was confirmed that AdvoCare, the maker of the products in the Jessica Hardy case, did not supply the team with any products, and that all six manufacturers that did, produced independent, third party evidence that their products were clenbuterol-free and were not implicated in other doping cases.

The CAS ruling can be found here.

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1 comment

A joke

Posted by Dr Mark J. Tallon, PhD,

If it was dietary supplements the team doctor would have retained samples to have tested in case of a positive test or have the supplements tested prior to use. Additionally, before CAS decided to include such statements in their conclusons why did they not ask for samples from Mr Contador or his team to test for clenbuterol?

For CAS to jump to such conclusions without any basis in fact is a joke.

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