Plasticizer test moving closer to official implementation, Contador case linked?
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Plasticizer test moving closer to official implementation, Contador case linked?

by Shane Stokes at 7:49 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Source close to WADA suggests that test advancement could be connected to Tour winner’s procedure

blood dopingFollowing claims last Autumn that Alberto Contador’s Tour de France samples may have indicated possible transfusions, a method of testing for the blood doping method appears to be moving closer to implementation in sport.

According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry has printed a study into the detection of such transfusions via the measurement of plasticizer levels in urine. It was submitted by a dozen researchers from anti-doping laboratories in Cologne, Barcelona and at the Universities of Budapest, and appeared on the journal’s website on Christmas day.

Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is a major step towards the validation of methods for use under the World Anti Doping Agency code, which requires a strong standard of proof in order to stand up against challenge.

The researchers studied three groups of people; a control group comprising 100 individuals with no special exposure to the plasticizer DEHP, ten hospitalised patients receiving transfusion and 468 athletes. Researchers concluded that “significantly increased levels of secondary DEHP metabolites were found in urine samples of transfused patients, strongly indicating blood transfusion.”

There were also indications that four of the athletes had shown clear signs of transfusions, including three riders from the same team. They had been targeted in out of competition controls.

DEHP is a plasticzer commonly used in blood bags to keep them pliable, and is known to leak into stored blood and thus provide tell-tale traces of transfusion.

Currently, approved tests exist for homologous blood transfusions (those using someone else’s blood), and has led to the suspensions of riders such as Tyler Hamilton, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin. However there is no approved test for autologous blood doping, which involves transfusions involving stored quantities of an individual’s own blood.

Could this have implications for Contador’s case?

El Pais suggests that the push to approve a test for the second type of blood doping may be linked to the Albert Contador case which occurred during the Tour de France. Unconfirmed reports which emerged after the September 30th announcement of his positive test claimed that Contador showed elevated levels of DEHP, prompting suggestions that he had transfused blood during the race.

The claims were first made by the German journalist Hans Joachim Seppelt, who said in an ARD television programme that Contador’s samples from the period in question contain high levels of plasticizers. The New York Times then printed a story on October 5th, citing an un-named source as stating that a urine sample taken by the UCI on July 20th revealed levels of plasticizers eight times higher than the minimum amount thought to point towards doping.

While the method has not yet been fully validated, WADA Director General David Howman said several days before the New York Times article that the test can be used as partial evidence of doping.

He told AP that a general test for plasticizers was, "fully validated and has been used in the food industry for years. Its use for anti-doping purposes is partially validated and evidence from it, among others, can be used before tribunals.”

El Pais states that precisely two weeks after a New York Times story broke the news of elevated plasticizer levels, Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry received the submission from the dozen researchers. It was revised on November 30th and accepted on December 8th.

The newspaper quotes an anonymous source close to the scientific committee of WADA, who suggested that the push for approval could be linked to the Tour de France winner.

“The publication complies exactly with the description of what WADA calls a validation article, which is necessary so that a method can be used officially by laboratories as an anti-doping test,” they told El Pais. “I can’t help suspecting that this is related to the position of Contador.”

Neither the UCI nor WADA have confirmed reports that the case against Contador includes an investigation into blood transfusions. The rider has denied all suggestions of doping, saying that he has always ridden clean and that the traces of Clenbuterol which have led to his current case are due to eating tainted meat. He has said that he is willing to release past samples for retesting.

The Spanish cycling federation RFEC is currently assessing documentation sent to it two months ago by the UCI, which has requested a disciplinary procedure against the rider. A decision is not expected until next month.

Yesterday El Pais reported that a source within the RFEC said that the federation had officially requested the UCI and WADA to inform it if a sanction was required in the Contador case. It reported that the UCI had replied and will officially respond to the RFEC by January 23rd or 24th, but the UCI has suggested this is not accurate.


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