Frank Schleck's Tour de France positive to the WADA-listed diuretic Xipamide, has opened up a feast of questions for pundits. While some explanation was given here, Cycling Central attempts to tackle a few more of the facts of the case, ahead of Schleck's pending B-sample analysis.
I categorically deny having taken any banned substance.
What is Xipamide?
Xipamide is a diuretic, listed on the WADA prohibited list as a 'Specified Substance'. More on Xipamide here.
Specified Substances - What are they?
A 'Specified Substance' you ask? But how does that differ to an outright banned substance, like EPO for example, and why are they listed separately, surely these things are black and white? Well no actually, and for good reason.
Specified Substances are listed separately in the WADA prohibited list because according to the organisation, 'there is a greater likelihood that such substances could be susceptible to a credible, non-doping explanation'. In other words there is a precedent of such substances previously being in athletes systems for reasons other than doping.
WADA does note however that such substances are not necessarily less serious, and can be strong performance enhancers. But for the reasons stated above, in the case of a positive test to a Specified Substance, athletes can be handed as little as a reprimand if they can prove that the Substance was taken to not aid performance.
According to Article 10.4 of the WADA code:
"To justify any elimination or reduction, the Athlete or other Person must produce corroborating evidence in addition to his or her word which establishes to the comfortable satisfaction of the hearing panel the absence of an intent to enhance sport performance or mask the use of a performance-enhancing substance."
And the burden of proof, as always, is left with the athlete, consistent with the WADA and UCI endorsed principle of strict liability.
WADA also adds that;
"The greater the potential performance-enhancing benefit, the higher the burden on the Athlete to prove lack of an intent to enhance sport performance."
How long would a diuretic like Xipamide take to leave your system? How easily is it detected? (Answers here with help from James Heathers, University of Sydney)
Diuretics generally stay in an athlete's system for as little as eight hours and are among the easiest drugs to detect. Authorities will likely look at other samples they already have acquired from Schleck at the race and retest for the same substance, to get a better idea of exactly when the substance was taken, and in what quantity. In fact the concentration of the drug will tell us a lot about likely uses.
How realistic is a claim of 'poisoning' as alleged by Schleck? How easy would it be for someone to do?
If we accept Schleck's hypothesis, and you'd chosen to poison someone, the process would be simple. Xipamide is an oral drug, it doesn't require aninjection or inhalation. Anything that goes in your head could conceivably becontaminated. Athletes go through a tremendous amount of fluids, and food at the Tour de France, so doing so would not be difficult. RadioShack-Nissan has however categorically denied knowledge or a role in such an explanation.
"On the subject of Xipamide the team can declare the following: it is not a product that is present in any of the medicine that the team uses and the reason for the presence of Xipamide in the urine sample of Mr Schleck is unclear to the team. Therefore, the team is not able to explain the adverse findings at this point," said a statement from the team after news was released.
A follow-up with respect to blood doping, on James Heathers' own article
Heathers suggested on Wednesday that such an old and out of use diuretic like Xipamide, could in fact be a contaminant from another process, notably blood doping. Heathers clarified that such an explanation is completely speculative, but would work as follows.
"The theory is that, during a blood draw earlier in the season, a contaminant which is present at the time comes along with the blood. Then, when it's re-injected, a very low level of contaminant comes back in giving a positive."
Such a theory was hypothesised to explain the tiny sample of clenbuterol found in Alberto Contador's sample at the 2010 Tour, but was never proven. Schleck has once before been implicated in a blood doping case, admitting in 2008 that he had transferred money to the infamous Eufemiano Fuentes (Operacion Puerto) for training advice.
He was subsequently cleared by his national federation. He also offered his DNA to test against blood samples held by the Spanish Court for the duration of the case to further clear his name. That option was not exercised.
Schleck brothers are owed money
Adding a layer of intrigue to the whole situation was the revelation just days before the positive test that the Schleck brothers as well as Fabian Cancellara had gone to the UCI over unpaid wages. The Schlecks reportedly are owed more than 500 thousand Euros, while Danish team-mate Jakob Fuglsang is also owed money. Fuglsang is already in the process of suing team owners Leopard SA.
Frank Schleck has maintained his innocence as he awaits his B-sample. He has said that he will claim poisoning if the B-sample comes back positive. Schleck has already volunteered information to police, and is co-operating fully with their own investigation.