The Spanish newspaper El Pais has this afternoon reported that Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is set to be cleared by the Spanish national federation, the RFEC, of the doping charges resulting from his positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol during last year’s race.
Contador has been summoned to the headquarters of the RFEC tomorrow to hear the outcome of its enquiry, and El Pais says that sources close to the four-man committee that is deciding his fate are inclined to clear him, meaning that he would be free to race from tomorrow.
Such a verdict would bring the RFEC into open conflict with world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), since with no minimum threshold required to establish an adverse analytical finding for clenbuterol, according to the letter of the law, a mandatory two-year ban should apply.
Last year, the UCI and WADA won a case at the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) to enforce worldwide a ban brought in Italy against 2009 Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde as a result of his links to Operacion Puerto, with the RFEC never having taken action against the then Caisse d’Epargne rider.
A decision to clear Contador, or impose a one-year rather than two-year ban as it said it proposed doing last month, would see the RFEC and Contador face the UCI and WADA at CAS to determine his fate, ensuring further negative headlines for a sport that to many in the wider population has already been tarnished too often as a result of drugs scandals.
Contador has always claimed that the presence of clenbuterol in his system resulted from his having eaten a contaminated steak on the evening before he was tested, by virtue of being race leader, on the second rest day of last year’s race.
For its part, the Spanish press does appear to have been well informed about the case to date, often breaking news of developments ahead of official confirmation, and while the RFEC did state last month that it proposed banning Contador for a year, the cyclist last week presented what he said was new evidence in his defence.
The 28-year-old rider, arguably the world’s most complete cyclist and winner not only of the Tour de France on three occasions but also the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta, both those successes coming in 2008, is due to ride for Saxo Bank SunGard this season, having been signed by Bjarne Riis late last summer from Astana.
Contador is hugely popular in Spain, and has received the backing of prominent figures ever since news of his failed test emerged last September, including the president of the RFEC – who does not sit on the committee deciding his case – and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who said last week that there was no legal reason to sanction the rider.
Should he escape a ban, then it is likely that the committee deciding his case will have been persuaded by Contador’s reliance on article 296 of the UCI’s anti-doping rules, which provides that a ban can be eliminated “if the rider establishes… that he bears No Fault or Negligence,” although the onus is on the cyclist to “establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his system in order to have the period of Ineligibility eliminated.”
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.