A decision on the future of Alberto Contador could be reached within the next fortnight according to Spanish press reports which claim that national cycling federation the RFEC has taken the unusual step of inviting the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and international cycling’s governing body, the UCI, to help resolve the case.
According to a report by Madrid-based newspaper El País, the RFEC has passed all of its documentation relating to Contador’s case to WADA and the UCI to enable a joint decision to be reached, with the UCI saying that it will send its reply on 23 or 24 January.
That would be six months almost to the day from Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol during the second test day on this year’s Tour de France, which the then Astana rider eventually won from Andy Schleck by 39 seconds.
News of that positive test did not emerge until the end of September when a German media outlet threatened to break the story, leading Contador to issue a statement confirming the positive test and the UCI to publish a hurried communiqué confirming that the 28-year-old had been provisionally suspended, and it wasn’t until 7 November that the UCI passed the case to the RFEC to open disciplinary proceedings.
Contador has always maintained that the substance, for which no minimum threshold is required to provide a positive test, was present in his body as a result of his having eaten a contaminated steak that hat been brought into France from Spain.
In theory, the presence of clenbuterol in Contador’s body should result in an automatic two-year ban. However, there is a school of thought that the rider, who is due to race for Team SunGard-Saxo Bank this year, may receive a shorter ban if it is decided that the substance was in his body innocently, and if that ban were no longer than four months, that could leave him free to ride almost immediately if it were backdated to the time of his suspension.
Explaining why its four-man competition commission, which has been hearing the case, had decided to invite WADA and the UCI to help decide the case, an anonymous source inside RFEC said: “The UCI and WADA took their time to pass the hot potato to us to decide on Contador and we think that they should get involved in it too.”
Given that the UCI’s own president, who has known Contador since the cyclist was a child, has previously expressed hope that the rider will be exonerated, that sounds to us like a case of passing the buck to deflect criticism from what could be a hugely unpopular decision within Spain should the cyclist receive the full two-year ban.
At the minimum, the RFEC seems to be seeking to deflect any potential criticism that it might be acting within Spanish national interests in deciding the case. “If the UCI and WADA, through studying the documents presented by Contador’s defence, decide that he should be sanctioned, we’ll sanction him; if they decide the opposite, we won’t sanction him,” added the source.
“In that way, not only can no-one accuse of us judging him under the influence of supposed patriotism, but also we can shorten the procedure, since if the UCI and WADA are in agreement with our decision, there will be no need to seek recourse before the CAS.”
It’s not clear, however, what will happen should the three parties fail to agree a joint decision, nor the actual mechanics of how it will be reached in the first place and in any event, Contador would retain the right to appeal to the CAS should the verdict go against him.
Also, although the UCI, WADA and RFEC’s respective lawyers will have presumably satisfied themselves as to the legality of determining the case in this way, it does represent an unprecedented deviation from the UCI’s own rules which state that at first instance it should be the national federation that decides a case, with the UCI able to able any decision to CAS afterwards.
It’s therefore surprising that especially given that the case couldn’t be more high-profile, the three parties are apparently seeking to circumvent the procedures laid down in the sport’s own anti-doping code, a course of action that presumably may lay them open to a legal challenge by Contador on the grounds that they have gone beyond their powers and reached a decision outside the established framework for doing so.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.