Alberto Contador has received a one year ban for failing a blood test for the banned substance Clenbuterol. The news of the ban was broken by the Spanish newspaper El Pais and confirmed tonight by a statement on his Saxo Bank Sungard team's website announcing a press conference on Friday at which Contador and his team manager will discuss the matter.
Contador has been given 10 days to appeal the decision handed down by the Spanish federation's Competitions Committee. The ban means that the Spaniard who failed the test for Clenbuterol taken at last year's Tour de France while he was riding for Astana, will be stripped of his 2010 Tour title which will now go to Andy Schleck, and that he will miss this year's race. The Saxo Bank statement also confirms that the reason for the one year ban is that the Competition Committee accepted, or indeed swallowed, Contador's explanation of "unintentional ingestion" of clenbuterol via a dodgy steak.
According to the statement by Riis Cycling on the Saxo Bank-Sungard website, Contador and his team manager, Bjarne Riis will face the press to discuss the matter on Friday afternoon. Contador had threatened to quit the sport had he been found guilty, a threat he has been notably quiet about in recent weeks. It will be interesting to see what he has to say about that. Riis for his part would appear to be ready to stand by his man. His reasoning may well be that Contador is still his best bet in a team shorn of star talent with the defection of all the major players and most of the supporting cast from last year's Saxo Bank team to this year's Leopard Trek. The Spaniard is on a multi-year deal and while he will forever be tainted goods for many from now on, he is also a proven winner and probably the only man capable of stopping Andy Schleck for the foreseeable future. Contador remains a highly bankable asset for 2012 while his current difficulties suggest he will not put too much of a strain on the team bank account in 2011. All supposition of course, things will be made clearer on Friday no doubt.
The inner turmoil at Saxo Bank Sungard though is merely one small corner of a much bigger mess created by the Spanish federation's one year ban and the suggested reasoning behind it. As we reported yesterday a one year ban is likely to cause questions to be asked of the Spanish regarding their investigation. UCI rules state that the minimum ban for a contravention of their rules on doping is 2 years. Crucially though it is left to the national governing body of the individual concerned to carry out disciplinary proceedings and to impose a sentence.
There has as yet been no comment from the UCI or WADA the World Anti-Doping Authority on this matter. The reaction of both those bodies will decide whether a one year ban is the end of the of the disciplinary process or merely the start of a longer and potentially messy legal challenge by one for both bodies of the Spanish federation's sentence. For a start while the Spanish accepted Contador's contaminated steak defence WADA has already said that neither strand of his argument, the steak nor the very small amount of clenbuterol found has any scientific validity.
To make matters yet more complicated for the UCI and WADA confirmation of Contador's one year ban will in all probability lead to the re-opening of the disciplinary case against Li Fuyu, the Radioshack rider who was banned for two years in March 2009 after also failing a test for clenbuterol which he too claimed was caused by unintentionally eating tainted meat. Although the Chinese cycling federation imposed a two year ban they did not send the papers for the case to the UCI for formal ratification, which one of their officials has confirmed could mean that they may revisit their original decision and adjust the sanction imposed in the light of a lesser punishment for the same offence being handed out in Spain. Like Contador, Fuyu Li continues to maintain his innocence
And he's not the only one. Bjarne Riis won't be the only Dane taking a keen interest in all this, the Danish rider Philip Nielsen also failed a test for Clenbuterol last year at the Tour of Mexico. His case is currently making its way through the disciplinary procedure, but it is hard to see how he too won't also be demanding parity with Contador when it comes to punishment.
If the UCI and WADA fail to act they will effectively be acquiescing to the establishment of a lesser form of doping in cycling and a new defence of "unintentional ingestion" for anyone caught using clenbuterol where similar values of the substance are picked up. In terms of its attempts to clean up cycling's image that would be a disaster for the UCI which also has the culmination of the Novitzky investigation into doping in US cycling in general, and the US Postal Team in particular, looming large on the horizon.
It would also seem unthinkable that WADA would let this one lie for fear that such a defence for failed Clenbuterol tests was picked up on by athletes in other sports.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.