Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Plasticizers = Positive Drug Test?

About twice a year I get to blog about bicycle racing here without it being much of a stretch. This is one of those days.

Alberto Contador is in the sporting news, more and more each day. Alberto won the Tour de France for the third time this year. News broke late last week that one of his urine samples had tested positive for clenbuterol, a drug that can help asthmatics with breathing and in general boost the oxygen carrying capacity of the bloodstream. The test certainly raised eyebrows and made the news, but there wasn't a huge scandal associated with it because the detection level was very low. It was too low to have any therapeutic impact, it wasn't found in any of the previous days samples, the following days samples showed a rapidly dropping level, and it was entirely possible that he consumed the drug unknowingly in his food. (He specifically stated that it came from some Spanish beef that he ate - the drug can be found in animals products as it is often given to them to aid in growth.) As such, I and many others were willing to not immediately come to any conclusions about it. Given the ever decreasing detection limits for analytical equipment, testing labs are going to keep finding more and more of less and less. I personally think that eventually it will be impossible to completely ban any drug from sports - it will be necessary to ban them above a certain level.

But anyway, things got a little more interesting yesterday when the NY Times reported that the Tour de France champion also had high levels of plasticizers in his urine. Yes, those nasty little plasticizers that fearmongers love to hate and that are in most PVCs. It's not that the plasticizers have any known therapeutic properties, it's that they "could" have gotten there from a blood transfusion that he took. (His own blood of course, that was withdrawn well in advance of the event.) Or maybe he was sucking on a PVC toy that evening. Or he helped the team mechanic with dip coating his tools with PVC plastisol and accidentally drank some. Or maybe he was making polymer clay things in the hotel kitchen and the plasticizers went through his skin.

In any case, this second set of test results is a lot more suspicious to me, even if it is indirect evidence. I would imagine that this will quickly lead to a very close examination of any blood drawn during the appropriate time frame. Any failures there would certainly lead to a second Tour de France champion being dethroned.

And all because of a plastic additive.

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