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NY Velocity: Ashenden Talks Blood Doping and Contador Case

Blood_medium Over at NY Velocity, Andy Shen has published a lengthy interview with anti-doping expert Michael Ashenden. This is a must-read, my friends. Grab an espresso. Or several! And dig in. The interview contains one of the most clear and succinct explanations of blood doping and its detection that I've ever seen anywhere. Read it for that insight, if nothing else.

But Ashenden also talks in significant detail about his analysis of the Contador case. In the interview, he explains how he looked at Contador's blood values from the 2010 Tour de France, where the Spanish rider tested positive for clenbuterol, and compared those values to Contador's previously recorded data. The money quote:

The inescapable conclusion was that his reticulocyte results were unusual for him. In fact, neither his own blood expert nor myself could conceive of any naturally-induced circumstance that could explain his elevated reticulocyte results during the Tour... Both of us also agreed that some forms of doping, for example a microdose EPO regime, could yield higher-than-expected reticulocytes.... The calculation found that the probability of Contador's four highest results occurring at a single race was less than 1 in 7000.

Of course, nothing is ever straightforward in the tangled world of arbitration cases. The arbitration court may only rule on the charges already made against a particular rider. In the case of Contador, the court was ruling on whether he should be sanctioned for testing positive for clenbuterol. Analysis of Contador's blood levels could serve as an explanation of the clenbuterol positive; the court could not sanction him for blood doping even if the evidence could be assembled to make that case.

Ashenden has quite a lot of interesting things to say about testifying before the arbitration panel and about how the panel makes its rulings. He cautions against putting too much weight on these decisions. "The facts are the facts, and rather than blindly accept athlete’s explanations and even CAS verdicts, I’d like to think the media and public will remain vigilant and even have a healthy cynicism in the future and decide for themselves whether explanations put before them are plausible," he said.

Based on this interview, it's clear that Ashenden has misgivings about how the arbiters reached their decision in the Contador case and how the legal rules governing the use of evidence shaped the outcome of the case.

People, go read this thing. It's that good.