Andrea Iannone's Doping Suspension: What Happens Next?

2020 is supposed to be a big year for Aprilia. The reorganization instigated by Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has helped free up lead engineer Romano Albesiano to design a brand new RS-GP from the ground up. The bike is expected to be much more competitive than the 75° V4 which has served them up until now.

But they enter 2020 with every chance of being without an important part of the MotoGP program. Andrea Iannone's lawyer confirmed to Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that Iannone's B sample from the drug test he failed in Sepang has also come back positive. The Italian now faces a four-year ban for use of the anabolic steroid drostanalone.

The quantities found in the sample were minute, Iannone's lawyer Antonio De Rensis told Gazzetta. "The counter-analysis showed the presence of metabolites equal to 1.15 nanograms per milliliter," De Rensis said. Taking into consideration that the sample was extremely concentrated due to Iannone being dehydrated from the hot and humid MotoGP race in Malaysia, that would point to an even lower concentration, De Rensis claimed. This would corroborate the theory of accidental contamination through food, according to Iannone's lawyer.

Iannone's options

Iannone followed up this defense in another interview with Gazzetta. Sepang was the first time he had been tested this year, but last year he was one of five riders chosen to follow the ADAMS program, the system where athletes have to continuously track their whereabouts, and report where they are and what they are doing, and be subject to multiple tests during the season. Those tests had all come back negative. "I have no plan B," Iannone told Gazzetta. "Bikes are my life, I am not a fool who risks everything."

Iannone's options for appeal are limited. The FIM, like most international sports federations, has adopted the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) code, which states explicitly that athletes are responsible for the substances which end up in their bodies. There can be mitigating circumstances, but as drostanolone, an anabolic androgenic steroid, is a so-called 'non-specified substance', it is viewed as a substance which is extremely unlikely to be found as a result of natural processes or accidental contamination.

Once the results of the B-sample are officially announced, Iannone will automatically be banned from all competition for 4 years. He can appeal against both the ban and its duration, once the official notification has been sent. The first appeal has to be made to the CDI, the FIM's International Disciplinary Court, and filed within 5 days of the result.

Once the CDI has received the appeal, the court has 45 days to consider its findings. If the CDI finds against Iannone, then the Italian can take his case to the CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, as the court of last resort. How long a CAS appeal could take varies, but it could take a very long time.

No significant fault

Does Iannone have a chance to get his ban lifted? From the outside, his chances look slim. If his defense is accidental contamination, the burden of proof is on him. He will not only have to prove that contamination was accidental, but also, that he had absolutely no way of knowing that the food might be contaminated. The FIM anti-doping code allows a defense of accidental contamination, under what is referred to as 'no fault or negligence', or 'no significant fault or negligence'. This is how it is defined in the code:

The Rider or other Person’s establishing that he or she did not know or suspect, and could not reasonably have known or suspected even with the exercise of utmost caution, that he or she had Used or been administered the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method or otherwise violated an anti-doping rule. Except in the case of a Minor, for any violation of Article 2.1, the Rider must also establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his or her system...

Proving that he had no way of knowing that food could be contaminated is not easy. If Iannone had a kept a diary cataloging his movements and everything he ate and drank, that might help. The USADA – the American anti-doping agency – has a list of recommendations which can help substantiate a claim of contamination, or no signficant fault:

  • Dates of travel
  • Dates eaten at various establishments
  • Name and address of establishment
  • Menu (physical menu or picture of menu)
  • Food diary, including type and estimated portion size of meat (photo of assembled plate showing foods consumed is also helpful)
  • Receipt of purchase, ideally itemized, to show specifically what food was ordered

This list was drawn up to help athletes support claims their food was contaminated with clenbuterol, another banned steroid. But whether that would help in the case of drostanolone, the substance Iannone is reported to have been found positive for, is open to question.

Suspect meat

The common vector for contamination with anabolic steroids is meat consumption. Clenbuterol is widely used in Mexico, South America, and parts of Asia, so clenbuterol contamination is demonstrably a real possibility, as is contamination with a number of other steroids.

However, drostanolone, sometimes called by its commercial name Masteron, is much less commonly used in meat production. Drostanolone promotes lean muscle growth, and can help to reduce body fat and expel water. It is much more expensive than most other common steroids, making it less attractive in meat production, and so the chance of ingesting it via contaminated meat, as Iannone claimed initially, is very low.

"I’ve never heard of drostanolone-contaminated meats, like I have other steroids such as nandrolone and clenbuterol," nutritionist Victor Conte told boxing website Boxing Scene. Conte was talking about the case of Antonio Tarver, a boxer who tested positive for drostanolone in 2012. The boxer wasn't the only fighter to test positive for the substance: boxers and MMA fighters have been found to be using the substance.

It is commonly used by bodybuilders to cut body fat and drop weight, Conte explained, as well as by boxers looking to make the weight for their division. It can be used in relatively short cycles – two to four weeks – for dropping weight. One version, drostanolone propionate, clears from the body relatively quickly, disappearing totally after about three weeks.

Open to interpretation

The fact that only trace amounts of drostanolone were found in Iannone's sample could point to two possible conclusions: one is accidental contamination, but the other is in line with following an anabolic steroid cycle prior to the flyaways, the substance disappearing right at the end of the three weeks away from home.

That was the conclusion of one expert consulted by the Gazzetta dello Sport. The amount found was in line with either theory, professor Paolo Borrione told Gazzetta. He could not rule out drostanolone being used in animal feed supplements, but the quantity found was also consistent with ending an anabolic cycle two to three weeks before the test took place. It would certainly provide some benefits for a motorcycle racer, the professor said. "It increases strength, makes you lose weight and gain muscle mass."

Iannone admitted that he had been following a weight loss program through 2019, but said it had been done in concert with Aprilia, and the focus had been on aerobic training. He had done it to reduce the weight difference between himself and teammate Aleix Espargaro, whose cycling addiction has made him extremely light. With the Aprilia lacking outright power, being lighter, and also with a better aerodynamic profile, was helpful.

Aprilia's dilemma

Iannone's positive drug test puts Aprilia in a very difficult situation. For the moment, the Italian factory is supporting its rider, until the legal process has run its course and Iannone has exhausted his options to appeal the decision. But with the Italian banned from taking part in any officially sanctioned activity, Aprilia needs a replacement. Especially with a new bike due to be rolled out at the Sepang test, a machine which is aimed at being much more competitive than the old RS-GP.

The most obvious candidate is test rider Bradley Smith. "I believe I'm first in line," Smith told me when contacted. The Englishman has performed admirably as test rider, and his relationship with Aprilia is good. That doesn't mean that he is a shoe-in to take over from Iannone if the Italian's ban is upheld, but it certainly makes him the favorite.

The options for Aprilia are relatively limited. Their other test rider, Matteo Baiocco, is set to race in the Italian championship in 2020. Karel Abraham is available, after having been pushed aside by Avintia Ducati to make way for Johann Zarco. Abraham could also take over as test rider if Bradley Smith does take Iannone's place in the factory team. Former Aprilia WorldSBK rider Lorenzo Savadori is also an option, as the Pedercini WorldSBK team is struggling with finding sponsorship to run the Italian.

The benefit for Aprilia is that they don't have to rush into a decision. With Bradley Smith already under contract as a test rider, they can wait for Iannone's appeal to the CDI. Smith will continue his testing duties at the Sepang test – both the shakedown, and the three-day official test from 7th-9th February – while Aprilia can draft in either Abraham or Savadori for extra testing duties in Malaysia.

By the time the MotoGP season officially kicks off at Qatar, on 8th March this year, the process at the CDI should have been completed, and if Iannone is still suspended or banned, then Smith can step in to take his place.

The end of Iannone?

The failed drug test puts Andrea Iannone in a much tougher situation. At the age of 30, he cannot afford to serve a full four-year ban, the automatic duration if he cannot persuade the CDI or CAS to intervene. The FIM doping rules allow for a ban to be shortened in duration, or even reduced to a reprimand, if no significant fault can be proved, as would be the case if contamination could be proved.

The burden of proof for this is extremely heavy, however. Riders are responsible for the substances found in their bodies, and demonstrating both realistic evidence of contamination, and that he had no way of suspecting he was consuming contaminated products will be very difficult indeed.

But even a one-year ban could prove fatal to Iannone's career. With the contracts of the entire grid up for grabs at the end of 2020, and a host of youngsters looking to move up from Moto2, it is easier for teams and manufacturers to pass over Iannone in favor of other riders.

For the moment, all of this still hasn't been confirmed officially. No announcement has come officially from the FIM, and Iannone hasn't officially filed an appeal with the CDI. We should know much more in the coming days.

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This quote from the 1993 film A Bronx Tale has always stuck with me and appears tailor made for the story of Iannone.  Was it the burning desire to cut weight and gain strength to chase a MotoGP podium (bright flash shown in PI) or to look better on Instagram for his many followers?  Hard to believe the story of contamination and seemingly harder for him to prove it.  I guess the silly season for 2020 kicks off with this ban for doping and the likley fading away of a real talent who wasted his golden opportunity in the top class.

This is an example of the clear and concise reporting of a thoroughly researched and investigated topic that Motomatters is known for. Thanks, David (and all others that may have contributed).

The all new Aprilia is of great interest. Iannone's MotoGP tenure has been apparently winding to a close. His "last chance" seat was not adequately filled for 2019, he backmarked often and looked unworkable for his team. Then a familiar reaction by him to finally motivate late in the season, he had an uptick in performance...just before this failed whiz quiz. The obscurity of that substance in meat speaks a lot I think. More so, Iannone's behavior and performance is a language we have all heard. One perspective is that this is an unfortunately fitting end.

I wanted to see him on a good bike in WSBK next year. He has a nascent Alien within, but the self involved lummox can't get out of its way.

Smith is underwhelming, but likely replacement to start the season. Abraham is equally underwhelming. A.Espargaro has been doing quite well, and his consistent high efforts contrast those of Iannone. Aprilia already had their eye on a future with a new rider, this just forces their hand. Perhaps a fresh kid can get in there on their new bike and ignite things? Hard to see lucking into a Zarco happening again here. We are likely to see an underwhelming stop gap 1 yr ride from one of the above mentioned riders, then someone quite interesting for 2021.

Andrea, you have warm wishes and respect for what you were able to do. Some master class riding while at Pramac. You also have condolences and regrets for what you didn't find yourself able or willing to do with what you had. You are quite human, and falling in love with your own reflection is a most ordinary and unfortunate mistake. May humility, personal responsibility and consistent effort be found in your next endeavor.

Now about that all new Aprilia...!

I had to go look up lummox to check it's meaning. Depending on the dictionary used the explanation varied. According to one interpretation, it was an awkward stupid person. I thought that was a bit harsh!. Given his superior motorcycle skills, I hardly think awkward is appropriate.


there are a few others. If you are familiar with Motoshrinks' postings-though his avant garde style sometimes makes it difficult to be so- you will know he has no malice or venom attached to his work. Although I am very sure the 'shrink can speak for himself...

Here in Yorkshire, England, Lummox is used to describe something like dropping a shopping bag or tripping over- "ya gret lummox' and said endearingly with a smile on the face. 

I rather think there are a great variety of words that can be used to describe the Maniac's downward progression. Any words though don't do justice to what is looking like a sad end to a mercurial talent and further underlines that to be at this level in sport, it really must take dedication and abstinence that only very few types of personality can achieve. 

Wassocks still roam Yorkshire and other parts of the North, though we don't come across AI29 in Slack Bottom, or anywhere else come to that. I am currently seeking counsel with fellow grim types whether the Wassock tag is credible over the original Lummox charge, or, dare I say it, if it is feasible to conclude that Andrea Iannone is, in fact, a PILLOCK!! 

Of course, such a serious accusation demands a most thorough and sober (hic..) enquiry. Let thi' know as it happens, 'appen..

Pillock nails it and is just a lovely word. If memory serves derived from a Scandinavian word "pillicock", meaning - you guessed it  "dick". 
Damn, now I'm thinking he may actually be a plonker! 
It really is clear that at the highest level the personal and off-bike attitude is what sorts the freakishly talented wheat from the equally talented chaff. 

I guess all of them probably fit, not least because they're usually used with a degree of affection. At least that's what I used to tell myself as an apprentice.

I have a degree of sympathy if guilty, just because we're all idiots at some time or another. Plus I've occasionally wondered how the drugs scandal has evaded MotoGP, I've always found it hard to believe that these guys aren't pumped full of all kinds of stuff just to be able to get back on the bike after a big tumble. Anyone here remember Biaggi racing with the back of his glove cut open, so the metalwork holding the bones in place could poke through? I doubt mental fortitude is all you need to ride in that shape.

The FIM uses WADA as it's enforcer for doping regulations. MotoGP is part of the FIM along with other national championships (BSB and MotoAmerica for example).   So does that mean that Ianonne can only race at club-level events?  Or am I asigning too much authority to the FIM in national racing series?  Crazy Joe was the only reason I watched Moto2 in the early days of the series. The sport needs more personality if it's going to attract a larger, more casual fan base. Giving the guy a 4 year professional death sentence seems overy harsh for whatver performance enhancement he got from taking PEDs.

Ant West was racing in Brazil after his ban.  I think he was even forced out of that series eventually though.

My understanding that is that a doping ban from the FIM would prevent a rider from participating in any activity organized under the auspices of a national federation. So if a motorcycle club were to organize a race, and that club was affiliated with the national federation (AMA/ACU/FMI/KMNV/etc), then a banned rider would not be allowed to take part in that race. This is true for any form of two-wheeled activity: MX, trial, enduro, road racing.

I am not sure whether a banned rider would be allowed to participate in any sport run by a federation which has subjected itself to the WADA rules. In other words, if Iannone's ban is upheld after appeal, then he might also be banned from participating in skiing races, in marathons, in boxing, or anything else. I am not completely clear on this, however.

As for WERA, I am not sure what WERA's affiliation with the AMA is, but if its races fall under the auspices of the AMA, then banned riders would be prohibited from taking part. This is why Ant West was excluded from the Brazilian championship.

Thanks for the memories AI29...a couple corners in particular. One with poor Dovi and then at PI under 2 of them! And THOSE 2 at that...

my oh my, dear boy, you burned brightly across our sky for too short and distracted a time. Sincerely, best of luck in everything you endeavor from here on out in your still young life. I am sure having risen to the top of your field once you will do it again.

of Moto2 graduates that I hoped could have taken the fight to MM93. Well, he did in Moto2, anyway.

The one thing I've been wondering about: is he a throwback to the old days of Moto competitors? You know, when riders seemed to have much more "personality" and were prone to doing things that are unacceptable in today's paddock? Or do you guys think he's just too caught up in himself? And is there a difference?

Another case in point with "bad boys", Romano Fenati.

If Andrea Iannone hadn't knocked Andrea Dovizioso off at Argentina when they were both on Ducatis, he may have kept his ride in Gigi's team.

"He's cooked his goose - let him line in it." David Malouf

Tricky scenario this proof thing innit? For an athlete travelling the world and eating at all manner of establishments, it seems highly unlikely that you would be able to prove contamination at any particular place.  What, you gonna go to a restaurant and ask “umm… roughly 6 months ago, are you able to remind me what I ate and what your meat suppliers are?”  never gonna happen. What interest is it for restaurateur to tell you the truth either… especially if they could get in trouble doing so. 

That being said, if the ‘roid decays and leaves the system after only 3 weeks, he should be able to assemble a relatively accurate diary of his comings and goings before the Sepang GP.  Hey, only have to look at his own social media to remind him where he was and when (if he is such a prolific poster).  But non the less, better hope his lawyer is smart enough to come up with the necessary scientific justification for the possibility or he really is toast.  I can tell ya, I’m sure every innocent athlete is shit scared of getting a doping hit against them and trying to prove it.  Doesn’t sound like fun, ask Ant West. That man is so addicted to racing, it doesn’t seem like he would intentionally risk his career, but we have to remember, most racers don’t have a high level education and don’t always have the best advisors around them, yet WADA expects them to make perfectly wise decisions on what goes in their body.  They are Motorcycle racers….. they aren’t making a wise decisions every time they get on a bike!!

As for Iannone’s place in GP, yeah, he had episodes of brilliance, but he also fills a spot that someone with equal or more talent hasn’t had the opportunity to fill. Someone less superficially narcissistic and harder working maybe.  I’m sure the list is long!

Given the substance detected, and the likelihood of it being in the food chain, you have to think he's either very, very unlucky, or very, very stupid.