As much as it bothers me, I cannot blame people for rolling their eyes when current and three-time Le Tour de France champion Alberto Contador told the world that he tested positive for a supposedly performance-enhancing substance during last year's Tour because he ate tainted meat. After all, many of the world's leading athletes over the last decade have sworn that they never took steroids, only to be proven liars by the evidence.
But just because some athletes take steroids, it does not mean that all athletes take steroids. Even among elite athletes, there are differences of genetics, work ethic, teammates, training regimens and coaching which can determine winners and losers. I believe Alberto Contador has won three Tour de France races because of his hard work and because he is a gifted athlete. I know this not because I like Alberto, nor, even, because I am Alberto's attorney. I know because I am trained to put aside emotion, refrain from pre-judgment and analyze the facts. The facts lead to only one conclusion: Alberto got an adverse result for a banned substance because he ate meat tainted with clenbuterol.
Clenbuterol is a drug farmers give to their beef cattle to bulk them up before slaughter. Heavier cows equal more money in the farmer's pocket. The only problem is that clenbuterol is illegal because if you eat meat that has been treated with clenbuterol, you will also ingest clenbuterol (which can make you sick). A German scientist proved that people who eat meat tainted with clenbuterol will have trace amounts in their system. This was at the same lab that found the clenbuterol in Alberto's sample.
The tainted meat eaten by Alberto Contador was likely purchased from a company owned by two brothers, and one of them was sanctioned in 2000 for fattening cattle with clenbuterol. After an intense investigation, the Basque Country Government determined that the most likely source was the meat from the company owned by the two brothers.
Here is something else to consider: the amount of clenbuterol found in Alberto Contador's urine offered no performance enhancement. In fact, it was so small that most World Anti-Doping Association approved test labs do not have the technological ability to detect it. The International Cycling Union (UCI) and the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) both stressed that the amount of clenbuterol found would not have improved his chances of winning Le Tour de France. This is because taking a one-time, small dose of clenbuterol is not how athletes who are seeking a competitive advantage use clenbuterol. Scientists agree that to get any performance enhancing benefits from clenbuterol, it needs to be taken in a cycle over two weeks.
We know that Alberto was not using clenbuterol over any amount of time because there were no traces of the chemical before the first positive test and because tests the following days showed less clenbuterol than he had in his system on his first positive test, proving that his system was eliminating the substance due to a one-take ingestion.
The last fact I would like you to consider is that because Alberto was leading the race, he knew he was going to be tested on the day which he tested positive. Why would Alberto Contador knowingly ingest a banned substance the day or night before he would be tested wearing the Yellow Jersey? Does it make sense that the top cyclist in the world, and likely the most tested man in the world, who watches every calorie and is so careful about what he puts in his body, would knowingly ingest a banned substance that offered no performance benefit but could get him banned from cycling?
By the end of this week, the International Cycling Union will determine whether or not to challenge the decision made by the Spanish Cycling Federation not to ban Alberto Contador from cycling. We hope they will do the right thing, consider all the facts, recognize the science-based and common sense explanation for this accidental ingestion, and follow the lead of Holland and Denmark, where riders who have also tested positive for clenbuterol because they ate tainted meat were not punished.
Ultimately, all the sporting agencies around the world must revisit their clenbuterol policies. Eliminating steroid use and creating a fair and even playing field for all athletes in their respective sports must be the goal of these powerful agencies. Not punishing the world's most gifted athletes -- or any athlete deeply committed to his or her competitive sport -- for eating steak.
Andy Ramos is an attorney at Bardají & Honrado, Abogados, a law firm in Madrid. At the firm, he heads the Entertainment & Sport Law Department.