After pulling on a white-red-blue Costa Rican National Champion’s jersey at the end of July, former UCI Gran Fondo / UWCT World Champion Robert Emil Nunes, 55, registered to race at the 2022 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships taking place next month in Trento, Italy – even though he has a long history of amateur doping.
Nunes (also spelled Núñez) is a life-long bike racer with an amateur career that stretches back decades and includes being found guilty of doping, not once, but twice.
According to Álvaro Echeverría, former President of the Costa Rican Cycling Federation (FECOCI), in 2001 at 33 years-old Nunes was suspended by the UCI for six months and fined two-thousand Swiss francs after testing positive in December 2000 for banned masking-agents used to cover-up testosterone doping activity.
“According to the UCI, Robert used espistestosterona, which is used as a cover-up agent for testosterone, which serves to increase muscle mass,” Echeverría told La Nación in March 2001.
But that first doping conviction involving testosterone was not his last, it happened again in 2018, this time as a 51 year-old gran fondo racer.
At the 2018 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Varese, Italy, Nunes tested positive for Stanozolol by the Italian National Anti Doping Organization (NADO) after he finished in third place with a time of 29:07.4 in the time trial, only 9 seconds off the winning time. It was a significant improvement from the previous year, when he finished eleventh (32:36) at the 2017 UCI Gran Fondo World Time Trial and 75 seconds off the winning time.
For his second doping violation, Nunes was again banned six months and stripped of his UCI Gran Fondo World Championship bronze medal.
In his defense, Nunes told CRCI Ciclismo, “The UCI concluded that the substance found was not administered properly and that it was passive contamination and did not improve my sports performance, unfortunately according to article 2.1.1 of the UCI each athlete is responsible for everything that is in his body regardless of how it arrived. Hence the six-month suspension, and they cancel the bronze result in the Worlds.”
Stanozolol is a man-made anabolic steroid derived from testosterone and very similar to naturally occurring testosterone. In humans it is prescribed to treat hereditary angioedema, which causes swelling of the face, extremities, genitals, bowel wall, and throat. It is also used in veterinary medicine, mainly in dogs, to increase appetite, cause weight gain and treat certain types of anemia.
In athletes, Stanozolol is taken to mimic the benefits of testosterone, including increasing strength, building muscle mass, boosting rapid acceleration, improving recovery time and becoming more assertive.
Its most notable use in competitive sports came in 1988, when Canadian track and field sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for Stanozolol at the Seoul Olympic Games and was stripped of his 100 meter gold medal, and subsequently banned for life after a second positive doping test – for testosterone.
Professional athletes, including cyclists, found guilty of doping a second time are universally banned for life from their sport, but the UCI applies different standards to aging amateur cyclists, affording Nunes the opportunity to return to Italy in September and compete for another World Championship title (and rainbow jersey) in the 55-59 year-old men’s time trial and gran fondo.