Spaniard Alberto Contador's four-day hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over his positive case for clenbuterol has got underway this morning, and there has already been one minor surprise - the early presence of Contador himself at the hearing.
Contador was expected to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday as one of the two dozen or so witnesses who will make a statement this week before the three-man panel of CAS judges hearing the case.
However, the Spaniard has shown up at CAS from the moment the hearing began around midday on Monday. He did not make any comments to reporters before entering the CAS building.
Exactly 16 months to the day have gone by since the triple-Tour winner tested positive for a minute quantity of the banned drug clenbuterol on July 21st, 2010. Cleared by his federation in February 2011 for doping, both the UCI and WADA have appealed against that verdict.
Then as now, Contador has claimed that the positive was due to a contaminated beefsteak. To that end, two of his Astana team-mates who also ate the beefsteak - but who were not tested - will also declare at CAS.
Others said to be due to make statements in favour of Contador are two polygraph [lie detector] specialists, and Paul Scott, an American whose company, ACE, oversaw internal anti-doping programs at a number of ProTour teams.
Although nobody in the media as yet seems to have any fully corroborated proof as to what the arguments by the defence and prosecution at the hearing will actually be - other than Contador says his positive was due to a contaminated beefsteak and WADA don't believe him - there are rumours aplenty out there as to what those arguments are.
Probably the most popular one is that the UCI and WADA will base their case around a plasticizer test, which apparently showed that a high quantity of residues of plastic - that can be found in blood bags, as well as many other substances - were found in Contador's blood.
However, there are three possible catches: firstly WADA have already shelved funding for the test, which remains unvalidated and therefore unlikely to stand up in a court of law, secondly the plasticizers test was at such an unadvanced level of reseach it can only be considered an indirect indication of doping, and thirdly Contador's positive for clenbuterol was on a different day to the alleged positive for plasticizers. If they came from the same bag, so one armchair theory goes, surely the positive tests would have been on the same day?
Until the evidence from the closed-door hearing is published by CAS alongside the verdict in some eight weeks time, though, there is frustatingly little chance of knowing what arguments actually were made by the 20-odd witnesses.
What seems certain, to judge from the witnesses being called - bio passport experts, lawyers, biostaticians, the polygraph experts, a private detective and even the butcher where the offending beefsteak was bought - is that Contador's biological passport will come up for analysis, as will the source of the mystery meat and the plasticizers test. Exactly how they will be used by the defence and prosecution, though, is anyone's guess.
The structure of the hearing is relatively straightforward. After an opening speech by the defence and prosecution, witnesses will be heard by the three-man panel of judges from Monday afternoon through to Thursday lunchtime.
This will be followed by a closing statement by both sides. A verdict, against which no appeal is possible, is not expected until late December or early January 2012.
Alberto Contador's clenbuterol case in brief
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Founded in 1891, Cycling Weekly and its team of expert journalists brings cyclists in-depth reviews, extensive coverage of both professional and domestic racing, as well as fitness advice and 'brew a cuppa and put your feet up' features. Cycling Weekly serves its audience across a range of platforms, from good old-fashioned print to online journalism, and video.
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