Ashenden raises questions about Contador’s blood levels in 2010 Tour
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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Ashenden raises questions about Contador’s blood levels in 2010 Tour

by VeloNation Press at 1:12 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
Says there were clear differences to usual biological passport profile

Alberto ContadorOn a day when he resigned from his role as one of the experts overseeing the biological passport on cycling, Michael Ashenden has highlighted what he said were suspicious inconsistencies with Alberto Contador’s blood profile when comparing his 2010 Tour de France levels to those at other points in his career.

The Australian anti-doping expert was called to give evidence during Contador’s hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport last November in Switzerland.

He confirmed today to the American website NYVelocity.com that he felt there was a notable change to the Spaniard’s blood levels in 2010, which he found difficult to explain without considering the possibility of blood doping. The rider tested positive for Clenbuterol during that year's race.

Ashenden pointed out that in 2006 Contador successfully applied to the UCI for an exemption to its usual 50% hematocrit limitation. This involved spending several days in the Lausanne laboratory where he underwent very carefully controlled blood tests.

“Those data were obviously considered to be reliable,” Ashenen explained. “Contador had been granted an exemption based on the validity of those data, thus it would be very difficult for him to turn around and suggest those data could not be relied upon. I used those data to establish to my satisfaction what his natural values for haemoglobin and reticulocytes [young red blood cells – ed.] were.”

Comparing these values to his levels four years later, Ashdenen said that he became concerned by what he saw.

“His 2010 Tour data definitely attracted my attention. As described in the panel’s ruling, my testimony was that his reticulocytes were higher than I would have expected,” he said. “Not just a single result, but every result during that race was equal or above the carefully collected results he'd provided to the Lausanne lab in 2006.”

High reticulocyte levels can be associated with the use of EPO or another similar blood-boosting agent.

“At first I thought this could have been due to the analyser used during that Tour. If the analyser had been reporting results slightly high, that would have explained why Contador's values were higher than expected. However I cross-checked the results of other riders, and it was not due to the instrument.

“My second thought was that perhaps this signature was just typical of how Contador's body responded to the competition of a major stage race. Again I was able to cross-check this with his other results during previous victories at major Tours, and that did not explain the 2010 Tour values either. In fact his 2010 Tour results were higher than any other value he'd provided during any of his previous major victories.”

He said that neither he nor Contador’s own blood expert could successfully explain the increase in reticulocytes, looking at natural means alone.

Ashenden pointed out that because the CAS appeal dealt with the Clenbuterol charge alone, that it was not possible to pursue a biological passport case during the hearing. The Clenbuterol positive alone was what was on the agenda, and Ashenden’s role was to ascertain whether or not traces of that could have occurred due to a blood transfusion.

He argued that it was plausible that the rider reinfused red blood cells at some point between Monday and Tuesday evening [July 19th and 20th], inadvertently introducing plasticiser traces into his system, then infused plasma on Wednesday July 21st in order to mask the red blood cell changes prior to a passport blood test carried out that morning. Under WADA’s theory, this second infusion contained the traces of Clenbuterol which he subsequently tested positive for.

Some evidence blocked:

At the time of the hearing, it was reported that Ashenden and WADA almost walked out in protest when the panel refused to allow him testify about certain matters. He explained the circumstances to NYVelocity, saying that he was blocked from discussing the likelihood that plasma reinfusion would come from storage bags not containing the plasticizer DEHP.

Contador had argued that because there wasn’t a twin peak for plasticizers, that this rubbished the WADA theory that he had undergone infusions.

Ashenden also said that he was also prevented from talking about the volume of plasma that would be required to successfully mask haemoglobin levels.

He said that the grounds used for this refusal was that he hadn’t previously mentioned the latter during his written submission.

Ashenden said that he was unhappy with how the CAS panel handled this part of the hearing. It ultimately ruled that both the blood transfusion theory offered by WADA as a possible source of the Clenbuterol positive plus the contaminated meat theory argued by Contador’s team were equally unlikely.

On February 6th, CAS ruled that it was more likely that a contaminated supplement was the cause of the Clenbuterol. It handed Contador a two year ban, partially backdated, and stripped his results from the date of the positive test.

He is eligible to return to competition on August 5th. The Spaniard denies blood doping during the 2010 Tour, and today reiterated his insistence that he had never used banned methods.

Ashenden is also likely to spent time away from cycling, due to his resignation from the biological passport programme. He told VeloNation today that the decision is due to what he says is an unacceptable confidentiality clause imposed by Lausanne’s Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU).

The full NYVelocity.com interview can be read here:

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