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.