Lizzy Banks has shared her gruelling 10-month fight to clear her name following a contaminated test that upended her cycling career. Banks received an email from UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) on July 28 last year, a date she will never forget. She was on a training ride near her home in Geneva when the message arrived, stating UKAD needed to send her something “private and confidential”. “I just completely freaked out,” Banks recalls.

The email revealed she had returned two Adverse Analytical Findings (AAF) for formoterol, a medication she had been taking for years to treat asthma and chlortalidone, a diuretic she had never heard of. “I couldn’t understand that one,” she said of the formoterol result, “and the second didn’t make sense as I was sure it wasn’t present in any of my medications.”

Impact of the test result

Banks embarked on a 9-month journey that drained her mentally, emotionally, and financially. She spent her life savings and borrowed from her foster brother and in-laws, totalling upwards of £40,000 to prove her innocence. Although absolved of any blame, the scars from this ordeal may never heal. “My cycling career is over,” she laments, noting that at 33, she will “never go back” to the sport she loves.

Banks’ mental health deteriorated severely, leading to suicidal thoughts. “I realise this will shock people,” she says, having sought help from a psychiatrist and now remaining on anti-depressants. Her decision to go public is driven by a fear that others in similar situations might take their own lives. During her research, which led to a landmark climbdown from UKAD, she discovered that many athletes might have returned positive tests due to contamination like hers.

Lizzy Banks

Sitting in a cafe near Windsor, Banks expresses her terror about the potential reaction to her story. She has waited for the 21-day appeal window to end before speaking out, though WADA still has another 21 days to appeal. “I have medication in my bag in case I have a complete meltdown,” she admits, revealing the ongoing impact on her mental health.

Banks recalls the exhaustive investigation, including 28 tests for 12 separate medications, which all came back negative. “It was like looking for a needle in a barn of haystacks,” she says. She stopped taking all medication out of fear of further contamination, leading to a rapid decline in her health. “So many times I broke down in tears and panic just because I had to use my inhalers,” she says. “It was inhumane.”

By autumn, Banks was crippled by anxiety and having suicidal thoughts. “I guess it’s pretty typical, I began to feel like: ‘What’s the point of being here?’” She recounts terrifying moments, including times when she had to ask her husband to put away knives because of her distress.

Eventual encouraging outcome

Despite never finding the exact source of her contamination, UKAD accepted that her test was contaminated on the balance of probabilities. She learned a great deal about manufacturing processes and the risk of contamination in pharmaceuticals, governed by a regulation called “Good Manufacturing Practices.” “This should seriously concern athletes,” she warns.

Banks discovered that this issue was not unique to her, citing other athletes who tested positive for trace amounts of diuretics. Her findings suggest a pattern of contamination correlating with the sensitivity of lab testing equipment. “As lab testing equipment became more sensitive, the number of athletes testing positive for diuretics crept up,” she notes.

Ultimately, it was a hair test that proved her contamination and led to UKAD reversing their stance. Banks was at home in Geneva when she received the call confirming this. “I did not know whether to laugh or cry,” she says.

Reflecting on her experience, Banks plans to write an open letter to WADA to push for changes. “I am desperate to incite change,” she states. Her ordeal has pushed her to take up woodwork as therapy and enter an endurance trail running event, though she remains committed to speaking out against flawed anti-doping processes.

For a full history of the case written by Lizzy Banks herself, visit lizzybanks.co.uk.