On Monday next week a hearing panel will convene at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, to rule on the case of Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.

It has been nearly 18 months since the Spaniard tested positive for a trace quantity of the banned drug during the final rest day of the Tour in Pau on July 21, 2010. Contador went on to win the race overall.

Since then one of the sport’s biggest names has been suspended, cleared, and conspicuously won a host of top-level races including the 2011 Giro d’Italia in May. And been almost constantly the subject of rumour and suspicion.

Contador has maintained his complete innocence throughout the past year and a half. On the same day that news of his positive test broke, in September 2010, Contador swiftly provided a theory that he must have unwittingly ingested clenbuterol via a tainted steak brought by a friend from Spain to France.

To the casual observer who neither knows nor cares what clenbuterol is or does, it’s just another ‘shady cyclist’ failing a drug test and making excuses. Another itchy, custard-headed boil on the face of professional cycling that can’t easily be covered up and forgotten.

Each year we invite readers of Cycling Weekly to vote for their hero and villain of the year as part of our annual reader poll. This year just as last, Contador is fighting for the not-so-coveted title of villain with Riccardo Ricco, a man who allegedly attempted to inject a black sausage into his veins in the hope that it might make him faster. He ended up in hospital in a near-death experience.

The CAS hearing panel will take four days to observe the supporting arguments of both sides in the case: Contador and the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) on one side, and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and World-Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on the other.

Whatever the outcome, cycling has already lost. It’s a case that can now come to no satisfactory conclusion after months of confusion, deliberation and periods of awkward silence.

Accepting the positive dope test and imposing a mandatory two-year suspension on Contador will mean that he will be stripped of his 2010 Tour de France win, and all results since then including the 2011 Giro d’Italia. In the eyes of many, that would also bring into doubt all of his other victories during his career.

Uphold RFEC’s decision to clear Contador and let him off, and it makes a mockery of the anti-doping system that sets out to punish knowing cheats. It’s a system that is already sheltering from heavy fire, and this may be the killer blow.

It seems likely that all parties in the dispute may have to unite to save face and limit the damage to the sport itself. A compromise looks the likely outcome, with a short back-dated ban, a fine and a public wrist-slapping allowing Contador to keep some or all of his 2011 results but showing that – in some small way at least – doping will not be tolerated.

Reports on Monday suggest that CAS will not reveal the outcome of the hearing until January 2012. It’s another extended wait for the promised conclusion of a case that has already taken far too long to resolve.


Related links

Contador clenbuterol appeal case looms

Contador’s clenbuterol case in brief

  • The GrannyRing

    Come on Mike, your arguments just don’t hold water. The equipment wasn’t sensitive enough but it could detect 50/1,000,000,000,000 ths of a gram of clenbuterol on the second rest day, but not on the days before or after that. He was struggling to hold Schleck in the mountains but this miniscule amount of clenbuterol made it easy for him to do so. Anyway, I’m done. My point is, the CAS is the proper venue to try these cases, not the CPO (Court of Public Opinion).

  • Mike

    No, that amount is not going to give him an advantage, Granny.
    The reason it was that small is because that was all that was left in the blood transfusion he had to boost his performance.
    He was probably using clenbuterol during training before the Tour, to help him shed weight, and the equipment they had to test his blood was not as sensitive as the oficial testers.
    Hence the traces of clenbuterol and plasticiser in his samples.
    All proven by the fact he was strugling to hold Schleck in the mountains, and then suddenly he is finding it easy.
    You work it out.

  • The GrannyRing

    No trace of any kind of PEDs before or after this particular incident…ever! Fifty picograms (50 trillionths of a gram) is not going to enhance anybody’s performance. Thank goodness the CAS exists to provide due process in situations like this. Give it a chance to do its work.

  • Mike

    How can he exonerated?
    He had clenbuterol in his system. A and B samples. Its not naturally ocuring in the human body.
    For some unknown reason he was given one months grace before the results were released to the general public, giving him time to come up with a lame excuse.
    He has no real defence. Tainted steak? yea thaat would be right.
    I would have retained even a little respect for him if he had the guts to man up and admit it.

  • The GrannyRing

    I’m not sure how you can say that to “Uphold RFEC’s decision to clear Contador and let him off…makes a mockery of the anti-doping system that sets out to punish knowing cheats.” What makes you think he is a “knowing cheat”. If he is exonerated, it shows that due process has accepted the veracity of his explanation. Nothing more, nothing less. Quit being self-appointed judge and jury!

  • adam

    Mike – I agree. As a pro athlete in a sport with a dubious past (and present?), and whilst competing in the biggest race of the year… to not be aware of what you are eating? Pfft… don’t believe it for a second.

    Greg… WTF? How would that work? about as well as the hemacrit levels idea, is my guess. As someone said before, it would be like a bank saying ‘Well, it’s OK to steal up to £1000, but nothing more’!

    The more i read about it, the more zero tolerance i become. And as for the governing bodies… p**s up and brewery spring to mind.

  • Mike

    The UCI dont need to prove Contadors guilt.
    He tested positive. End of story. It was in his system, and it is not naturally present in the human body.

    Tainted steak my a**e. There is not a pro cyclist in he world that eats steak before the queen stage of the biggest race in the calendar.
    It is the sad task of his legal team to get the powers that be to let him off.

    Also,Pro teams control everything a top cyclist eats and drinks. So lets just forget the tainted meat joke, its up there with the dog ate my homework.

  • g gartrell

    If the Astana riders ate the same meat and didn’t test positive……. case against Contador proven

  • Pete

    I totally agree. The UCI will never be able to prove Contador’s guilt, Contador will never be able to prove his innocence. Stalemate. All it highlights is the totally flawed nature of the tests being applied. That all this is happening 18 months down the line is something else that’s laughable.

    For my money I would have all of these tests in a kind of “blood alcohol test” format. Above a certain (non-zero) value is a red flag, below that value is a green flag. The “certain value” would need to be defined on a per-substance basis, and should be a level where there can be no reasonable doubt that the athlete ingested the substance deliberately. Fair enough, this is probably quite a tricky thing to do, but look at the mess they’re in now!

  • Greg Polk

    Would raising the thresholds for banned substances be any help?

    Riders would be less likely to test positive while at the same time prevent them from gaining much advantage if they chose to ignore the rules. Fewer riders testing positive means fewer black eyes for the sport. It would also mean fewer cases where trace amounts could be defended by tainted products such as a steak from Spain, as Contador is claiming.

    The media would go wild reporting that the sport of cycling just gave a nod to “some drug use o.k.”, but in one years time nobody would remember the day the thresholds were raised and the sport will have some chance at being taken seriously in the years ahead.

    For me personally, the Tour and other major races have lost their luster already. I love to watch the top riders excel, but I can’t help but wonder….”Are they just better at getting away with it?”.