Tag Archives: cheating

Clenbuterol

Michael Rogers, back when he was riding for Team Sky

Michael Rogers, back when he was riding for Team Sky

Today, yet another cyclist – Belgian rider Jonathan Breyne of UCI Continental Pro team Crelan-Euphony – has tested positive for the banned substance, Clenbuterol, following his ride at the Japan Cup in October 2013. This follows hot on the heels Michael Rogers’ positive test (pictured) for the same substance earlier this week, following his victory at the same event. Both riders had previously been racing in China the week before. Coincidence?

I’m no chemist, so much of the information I’ve pulled together here is from secondary sources.

Clenbuterol’s main legitimate use is as a prescription drug for those with severe breathing difficulties. It is a stimulant and increases aerobic capacity; it doesn’t take much to understand why it is a banned substance for all sports around the world. The now-notorious EPO does much the same thing. It also makes the body burn fat faster and more efficiently, which has led to it being used as a weight-loss drug by some celebrities and it is commonly pushed as a “fat burning pill“. It is also very popular on the bodybuilding scene. The trouble is, it is prohibited in the EU and the USA for just about everything, other than in limited medical and veterinary circumstances. It is possible to obtain it in the EU / USA, much like other illegal drugs can be obtained in very specific circumstances, but for someone who just wants to pop a few pills to help with weight loss, that isn’t going to happen. However, like most things in the modern age, it can easily be obtained on the internet – and the main place to get it is China. Even in China, its general use is illegal – but it still occasionally crops up as a food additive, owing to China’s more lax farming controls.

It doesn’t take much effort to locate sources of Chinese Clenbuterol all over the internet. The Qufu Xindi Chemical Research Company don’t advertise it on their official chemical product list, but they are quite clearly selling the substance on other sites. It is easily obtained on forums and even sites openly selling performance-enhancing drugs, which aren’t even legal in the UK. Steroid Supplier and Muscle Junkies are two other such sites I’ve found in the last couple of minutes, and I’m sure I could easily find more. The thing they all have in common is the source: China. This is also where both Reyne and Rogers claim they have unwittingly taken the substance, and both blame it on contaminated food, as have many other athletes before them.

While with Jonathan Tiernan-Locke I’m still very much undecided, when it comes to Michael Rogers I find myself a lot less supportive. Rogers left Team Sky just as their anti-doping charter was drawn up and he had refused to sign it. He left swiftly and joined a lesser team, Saxo-Tinkoff. Rogers is also known to have visited Michele Ferrari, Lance Armstrong’s now infamous doctor who was at the centre of the world’s biggest ever doping scandal, back in 2005 and 2006. I read Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race, and am left in no doubt that people only went to see Ferrari because they wanted performance-enhancing drugs. He is utterly discredited. As such, for me, there is too much smoke around Michael Rogers to give him the benefit of the doubt unconditionally. His argument around contaminated food may have some merit, but consider that even the Chinese national team banned their own athletes from eating Chinese meat ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games so that they wouldn’t run the risk of ingesting any Clenbuterol. The same argument was used by Alberto Contador back in 2012 and it didn’t work then. UCI rules also make it absolutely clear (s.21, p.6) that it is the rider’s responsibility to control exactly what goes into their bodies. It beggars belief that in a country notorious for food contamination that teams – especially a WorldTour team like Saxo-Tinkoff – wouldn’t be aware of that.

What will ultimately decide the fate of Rogers and Reyne is the quantity of Clenbuterol in their systems, and this is the great unknown right now until proper hearings are held. Both Rogers and Reyne have tested positive for the substance in a China, where it is notoriously added to food to “bulk up” livestock. It is also the country where it is easier to get hold of than anywhere else in the world. Coincidence? We shall soon see.

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JTL Charged with Doping Offence

I don’t usually follow individual cases on this blog, but given my support and love of Team Sky, I have been following Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s case with considerable interest – not least because I remember how well he did at the Tour of Britain 2012 and how pleased I was when Sky snapped him up. JTL stood out in that competition as a class act. I’d never heard of him before that, but it was obvious he was destined for the big time.

Now he has been charged with a doping offence, my confidence is rattled a little. I find myself trying not to judge or rush to conclusions; no evidence has been made public yet and JTL is entitled to defend himself. Yet, given JTL’s circumstances – his medical history, the step up in class, a new regime – there are many reasons why his form could have suddenly fallen off when he joined Sky. I hope he’s innocent, but something is nagging at me. The UCI are going to be very sensitive to doping at the moment and I just can’t help but think they would make such an allegation unless they had cast-iron evidence.

Given Michael Rogers’ positive test in the last few days (another ex Team Sky rider), I really hope the team doesn’t get dragged into this as a whole. I believe them when they say they “race and win clean”. Let’s hope that faith isn’t misplaced.

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Jonathan Tiernan-Locke

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke

As I write this, there is still no news on the Jonathan Tiernan-Locke blood irregularity story that has been in the mainstream cycling press. Some have argued that Tiernan-Locke has been given a raw deal by the press and that JTL is effectively “tainted” now for the rest of his career, no matter what he does in future. This is the reason why doping investigations remain confidential, but questions were always going to be asked about why JTL pulled out of the GB Road Race team when he did back on 26th September 2013. “Lack of form” wouldn’t have cut it for long; much lesser riders than JTL were in that squad and he wasn’t representing the higher echelon of Team Sky at the time. His form had been poor since making the jump up from Continental level, but perhaps that was to be expected.

I’m not going to speculate wildly about whether JTL’s blood readings are representative of an illness or doping; I haven’t got any more facts than anybody else, yet I do feel that stories like this deserve to be in the press. Professional sportsmen / women manage to exist because they are a form of public entertainment, no matter what the sport. If people aren’t riding clean, then people deserve to know what they’re watching. If JTL’s blood readings are “clean”, then I expect the processes around that to be well-explained by the UCI so that we can all have confidence in the procedure, and I’m sure they will be very thorough procedures indeed. It shouldn’t taint him in the long-term, so long as there is transparency. Unfortunately, the UCI is a masterful institution at remaining silent on important issues within cycling, and nobody seems to know what is happening with the case at the moment.

On a personal note, I hope that JTL is clean. I saw him win the Tour of Britain at the first ever cycling event I attended in person, standing out on Guildford High St for about 4 hours just to catch a 15-second glimpse of him as he cycled past in the gold jersey. I saw him crunch his way up Porlock Hill in Devon the day before, knowing that my car had barely once made it up that climb. For me, he was one of the outstanding riders of 2012 and a deserved addition to the Team Sky line-up. I hope my faith in him isn’t misplaced.

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The Disconnection of Pro Cycling

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I’ve been a player of many sports over the years, and consequently followed the professional versions of the same, whether that be football, cricket, rugby or many others. When I took up cycling last year, I knew virtually nothing about pro cycling; I’d heard of Lance Armstrong, but would have struggled to tell you which team he rode for, or who were the current leaders of the UCI tour. I was aware of Chris Hoy’s achievements, but oblivious to Bradley Wiggins. The last time I’d ever really watched cycling was at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. When I got on my bike for the first time in 20 years, it was in the wake of Tour de France and London 2012 fever. I naturally decided to watch the professional game and take an interest in elite-level cycling.

I was surprised, when I started taking an interest, at just how disconnected professional cycling feels from the amateur game. It may have something to do with the fact that cycling isn’t just a sport; for many people, it’s a form of transport. Car drivers aren’t all Formula 1 fans, after all. What struck me particularly was how remote the sport feels from the everyday cyclist. Maybe it’s because every major cycling competition takes place on the European continent, with only the Tour of Britain coming once a year to this country. Maybe it’s because there is only one real professional British team, Team Sky, who last year bore a strong similarity to the British Olympic team. Maybe it’s because of an almost complete lack of coverage of cycling news except on the Internet in this country. Either way, professional cycling feels remote and distant to me, an everyday British cyclist.

To add further insult to injury, I read Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race shortly before Christmas and was absolutely staggered at the obvious levels of cheating going on in pro cycling. I could think of no other sport in which limits had been pushed to such extremes that virtually all the competitors had resorted to wholesale organised cheating just to keep up with the pack. I was amazed at how tainted the sport I had just come to appreciate had made itself. It’s greatest hero – the only pro cyclist I really knew from my non-cycling day – was now being masqueraded as one of the greatest cheats of all. It certainly gave me no love for the professional sport, and I felt more distant than ever before.

To help in overcoming this disconnection, I think there needs to be more competition in this country. The UCI cannot now deny that Britain is one of the world’s leading competitive countries in cycling, whether on the road or on the track. We have the most fabulous countryside and world class velodromes. An annual visit of the 8-stage Tour of Britain, a class 2.1 event (i.e. not top tier), simply isn’t enough. There needs to be more competition – and better coverage – of the tiers of cycling below the UCI Pro Tour level. League structures make sports exciting, and as far as I know, no serious structure exists in this country, and even Pro Tour rankings are not taken particularly seriously – just whether or not a rider wins a particular race or not seems to be the main criteria.

British cycling cannot just be sustained by media coverage of Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins. Pendleton has retired, Hoy is about to and Wiggins is unlikely ever to repeat the achievements of 2012. In any case, only Wiggins rides for a pro team. What about other British riders and teams? Without coverage, British cyclists will just be things that pop up every four years, and the pro sport will remain in the doldrums. It needs to be clean, and seen to be clean – something I don’t have a whole lot of faith with while the UCI is the governing body of the sport, given their apparent collusion with the Lance Armsrong drug scandal.

A perceived corrupt sport, with remote stars and a lack of competition will see British cycling return to the doldrums. This will be a huge blow for the sport, just as it’s more popular than ever in Britain. Last summer, despite all the scandal breaking in the pro game, the connection with the wider public was made. People like me started cycling in droves. Now the professional arena has a responsibility to keep that up.

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