Alberto Contador cleared of doping charges by Spanish federation

"I never cheated" says Contador who is set to return to peloton tomorrow to defend Tour of Algarve title

by Simon_MacMichael   February 15, 2011  

Alberto Contador Press Conference in Yellow © PhotoSport International.jpg

Alberto Contador looks set to return to racing tomorrow to begin his defence of his Tour of the Algarve title after being cleared by the disciplinary committee of the RFEC, the Spanish national cycling federation. The committee has ruled that his positive test for clenbuterol during last year’s Tour de France did not constitute a case of doping and that as a result, no sanction will be brought against the rider. Almost as soon as Contador's representatives had confirmed the decision the UCI issued a statement (see below) saying it reserved the right to conduct "an in-depth study of the reasons behind the decision before expressing its opinion."

Responding to the news in a statement immediately posted on his Saxo Bank Sungard team's website Contador said: 

"First of all, I'm relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. It has been some very stressful months for me, but throughout the case I have been totally available for all inquiries in relation to my case, and all the way through I have spoken in accordance with the truth. To both the team and the authorities I have explained, that I never cheated or deliberately took a banned substance."

While welcoming the decision as the right one, Saxo Bank Sungard boss Bjarne Riis also sounded a note of realism noting that in all likelihood the RFEC's decision would go to appeal:

"This decision is indeed proof that the relevant authorities do not find grounds for believing, that Alberto Contador has committed any intentional doping offence, which is absolutely vital for us. So I'm obviously happy on behalf of Alberto and the team. We take note of this decision and fully respect it, but we're also sensitive to the fact, that the parties of this case still have the right to appeal this decision," 

Mindful no doubt of how this will all play in the wider cycling world Riis then went on to re-confirm his team's commitment to clean cycling:

"I really want to take this opportunity to emphasize again that nothing in our values has changed. We're still a team that strongly condemn all kind of cheating, including doping. But we will at all times also be a fair team. It is of great importance, that we don't equate conscious cheating and an accidental intake of a banned substance."

According to the Spanish cycling website Biciclismo earlier this afternoon, Spanish radio reported that Fran Contador, the three-time Tour de France champion’s brother and manager, received a phone call from the secretary of the RFEC in which he was informed that a definitive statement was being prepared. Contador’s lawyer, Andy Ramos, is also reported to have confirmed that his client has been exonerated. Contador will reportedly be interviewed on Spanish television tonight.

The RFEC, for its part, has not yet confirmed the news on its website, but it has taken what appears to be the highly unusual step of issuing a statement in which Fernando Uruburu, president of the disciplinary committee, attacks those in Spain who have called into question the independence and objectivity of its investigation, including allegations that it had succumbed to "political and media pressure."

The precise reasons for Contador’s reported acquittal are not, as yet, clear. The rider, who moved from Astana to Saxo Bank SunGard at the end of last season, has always insisted that the minute traces of clenbuterol found in a urine sample taken on the second rest day of last July’s Tour de France resulted from his having eaten a contaminated steak the evening before.

Last week, in an interview with Spanish radio, Contador revealed that part of his defence would be based 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.”

However, he also hinted at other evidence supporting his case, without elaborating what that might be. This morning, French daily L’Equipe reported that the cyclist’s case may have been aided by a technicality, in that a letter from the UCI outlining the charges brought against him was never forwarded to Contador or his legal representatives.

If that is true, that would be a stunning development in the case, given that it has been more than four and a half months since news broke that Alberto Contador had beem provisionally suspended, with the delay partly attributed to the UCI and WADA undertaking as rigorous an investigation into the case as was possible ahead of the file being passed to the RFEC on 7th November.

According to L’Equipe, Contador and his legal advisors did not receive a letter sent by the UCI to the RFEC three days earlier in which the sport’s worldwide governing body outlined four possible factors explaining his positive test for clenbuterol last July.

Contador and his lawyers, reports the French newspaper, claimed that the fact the letter was not sent to them breaches the rider’s rights as the accused to be informed of the action against him, as required by the Spanish constitution.

A reading of the relevant section of the UCI’s Anti-doping Rules suggests that the UCI fulfilled its duty in writing to the Spanish federation, and that procedural error will lie in the RFEC not then communicating its contents to the cyclist and his legal representatives.

If reports that Contador has escaped on a technicality are correct, one can only imagine the manner in which the news has been greeted by the UCI and WADA which are almost certain to appeal the verdict to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Contador’s exoneration marks an scarcely credible reversal of fortunes for the 27-year-old. Only two weeks ago, the RFEC announced that it proposed banning him for a year, in itself a lower penalty than the statutory two-year ban that testing positive for clenbuterol would appear to merit.

Speaking yesterday as rumours began to circulate that the three time Tour de France champion was set to be cleared, Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the US Antidoping Agency, suggested that a full exoneration of Contador would create an exceptional situation. Speaking to The New York Times, he said: “It’s a very, very unique set of facts that would justify someone being completely cleared, so unique that we haven’t seen it at all, at least here in the United States.”

Tygart added that he had reservations about the apparent U-turn performed by the RFEC, saying: “If there’s truly been a flip-flop, as reported, it appears to be a classic example of the fox protecting the henhouse. It would look like they are protecting a national hero.”

That was echoed in article published by Spanish daily El Pais earlier today, which correctly anticipated the RFEC’s decision and began with the sentence, “Spain, represented by the disciplinary committee of the RFEC, has decided to exonerate Alberto Contador.”

Quite what the reaction of Contador's fellow riders will be tomorrow, should he start the Tour of the Algarve, is unclear. This isn't the first time he has been under suspicion of doping - in 2006, he was linked to Operacion Puerto, but subsequently cleared.

In the present case, reports suggested that analysis of Contador's urine also revealed traces of plasticizers, which could be evidence of an illegal transfusion (and equally, could be due to an innocent medical procedure), although no formal test has been established for these and this issue was not the subject of the investigation into last July's failed test.

We'll bring you news of the official statement plus any reaction as soon as we are able to.

 Contador case: UCI to study the RFEC’s decision

The International Cycling Union has received the decision of the Disciplinary Commission of the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) in the case of Alberto Contador.

While acknowledging the differences between the conclusions of the recommendation that had been presented to the rider by the rapporteur of the RFEC Disciplinary Commission and those expressed in the Commission's decision announced today, the UCI reserves the right to conduct an in-depth study of the reasons behind the decision before expressing its opinion.

In accordance with the regulations the UCI now awaits the full dossier on the case from the RFEC.

Once this documentation has been received, the UCI will issue its decision within 30 days.

24 user comments

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I spotted this on the BBC News site and rang you guys as you were reading the decision! Interesting point you made though that there's been no evidence where the contaminated steak may or may not have come from. Of course, there may well be a police investigation into food smuggling going on that we don't know about. However if this goes to appeal hopefully this will come out.

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [275 posts]
15th February 2011 - 18:09

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We're going with the 'smug Alberto' pic on this one for obvious reasons.

Although once the postal services of various European countries have passed the relevant paperwork to UCI HQ he might not be smiling for long… although you might not even bet against that.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4131 posts]
15th February 2011 - 18:25

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**SLAP**

Not US Postal Services?

Basically - 'booooo'

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posted by andylul [410 posts]
15th February 2011 - 18:40

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I shouldnt be, but I'm astonished by this. I just dont see how they could clear him without clear evidence of how the substance got into his system - and if he has that evidence, why has no-one said so up until now?! Seems like an obvious case of a national body making up a reason to clear their own rider, and further damaging everyone's credibility. Nice work RFEC D Oh

Then again, I'd be even more amazed if it doesn't end up with CAS, and who knows whether that will happen before this year's TdF - are we looking at another Valverde-style farce, with a rider seeing how many wins they can get in races they should never have been allowed to ride?

posted by step-hent [644 posts]
15th February 2011 - 18:44

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its a joke , and to be frank , it makes the watching of the tour yet again a waste of time.

If this isn't appealed it will be the worst day for professional cycling and drives a coach and horses through the rule book

contator and vinkerov(who says he wants to end his career in yellow) pick a winner and you get a special burger

posted by stevefisher [40 posts]
15th February 2011 - 19:11

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To quote Victor Meldrew .....

"I don't bloody belieeeve it !"

Talbot.
Cycling - the reason the wheel was invented!

posted by Talbot [2 posts]
15th February 2011 - 19:13

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Spanish looking after their own. What about the Chinese SHACK rider? He Claimed the same drug entered his body through food and got done for 2years.

It makes a mockery of the whole system and sports governing bodies.

posted by gareth2510 [133 posts]
15th February 2011 - 19:13

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What a farce. I hope that the ASO see sense and stop him from riding the tour if there is an appeal with the CAS, otherwise (as someone points out above) it will be a joke of a race.

posted by pjt201 [97 posts]
15th February 2011 - 19:23

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this is a joke really, as others say, Spanish fed looking after their own it seems.

I havent paid much attention to this story since the first few days after it broke, but wasnt there some chat about there being evidence of plasticisers in his blood as well as the clenbutorol? ie evidence that he had been blood doping?

posted by fxceltic [28 posts]
15th February 2011 - 19:26

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Imagine how popular he will be on the Tour de France climbs in July if it turns out that he escaped sanction from his national governing body, the REFC, on the technicality that the REFC failed to send him a particular letter!

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1322 posts]
15th February 2011 - 19:43

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cat1commuter wrote:
Imagine how popular he will be on the Tour de France climbs in July if it turns out that he escaped sanction from his national governing body, the REFC, on the technicality that the REFC failed to send him a particular letter!

Maybe Jacques Tati got given the delivery round including Contador's house that day?

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7861 posts]
15th February 2011 - 20:41

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Strangely the plasticiser evidence isn't discussed either. Blood transfusion is also doping. Hmm. He's not the only one doing that.

posted by MikeL [17 posts]
15th February 2011 - 21:00

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Totally agre with the 'flip flop' comment, fixed on one side, free on the other.

antonio

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posted by antonio [924 posts]
15th February 2011 - 21:07

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The whole '1 year ban' was obviously just the Spanish Federation testing the water to see the degree of outrage, made the right noises about an appeal being unsuccessful to make it look like they were still taking a 'hard stance' and then whoops... appeal successful because obviously no guilty rider would take the risk of a longer ban, would they?

Total joke when doping is so endemic in Spanish sport at the moment-all it will take is one top flight athlete to do a Ricco and all the same people that have been saying there is no basis to ban Contador will be baying for stricter controls and trying to protect their own backs.

Foolishness. And I have a horrible feeling the UCI and WADA might not have a huge amount to add to the matter...

...  Soyez Realiste-Demandez L'impossible ...

posted by Gregoire500 [138 posts]
15th February 2011 - 21:09

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I hope he is loudly boo'd by every cycling fan on the road.

My nightmare now is a tour podium of Contador, Vino and Basso.

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posted by TheHatter [810 posts]
15th February 2011 - 21:10

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1. No point victimising Contador - in the peleton he's probably like the majority. Take andy schlek's support for contador as an example - hardly the lilely action of a clean rider who's had his dreams smashed by a doper!? We need to blame the system and the enforcers.

2. Does anyone else feel stupid for NOT taking something?

posted by cheersbigears [8 posts]
16th February 2011 - 9:15

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Maybe on this basis the Brititsh Cycling authorities should clear Tom Simpson and he should posthumously be awarded the Tour de France.

whizz kid

posted by whizzkid [62 posts]
16th February 2011 - 10:02

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So if he didn't take the clembuterol himself and did get it from the steak are the Spanish cycling authorities accusing the Spanish beef farming industry of putting illegal growth hormones in their beef? Has Albertos mate who bought the steak conveniently forgotten where he got it from?

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posted by Wooliferkins [47 posts]
16th February 2011 - 10:06

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Unbelievable ... well not really when you are tried by your own team Wink

How can the UCI "clean up" cycling when they leave it up to the National Authorities to sort out.

Come on UCI take some responsibility and do something!!!!!

posted by GrimpeurChris [59 posts]
16th February 2011 - 11:34

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I've a suggestion for how Contador should be treated after this whole sorry mess concludes. Our response as cycling fans and yours as publications should take a leaf out of the BBC's book. When it saw the Sex Pistols racing up the charts in the weeks coming up to thee Silver Jubilee it simply chose to ignore the band. I propose that we do the same regarding Contador. A total media blackout. No features on him, no reports on his training schedule, no photos of him and no reports of his victories. Should he win, sites like road.cc focus on who finished second and 'award' the win appropriately. Similarly, all those who finish below Contador are moved up one place. Starving Condator and Saxobank of publicity will show both the UCI and Contador what the cycling community thinks of him.

I'm sure that the political economy that cycling publications exist in dictates that it is very difficult simply to shun one rider (regardless of his doping record) so I also suggest that consumers take a similar line: don't buy anything with Contador on the cover, and withdraw subscriptions similarly if necessary. The next stage would be to announce to all of Contador's sponsors -- Sidi, Specialized et al -- that we'll not buy their equipment until they end their association with Contador.

Unfortunately, serious times deserve serious measures. Contador's case looks like being swept under the carpet, which is another colossal blow to cycling's credibility. We should not stand for it any more.

posted by stereojet [114 posts]
16th February 2011 - 11:43

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@whizz kid your mention of Tom prompted me adding a link to my photos of an early feb visit to Mont Ventoux !

http://bit.ly/gZNftM,Sun

As you will see it was sunny and warm, like my may/june visits in earlier years.

Think i was the first Aussie to the top n 2011 and came across some that reached tom's monument and because of 6ins on snow for a hundred metres turned back ! Incredible to ride so far and stop 800m short .

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

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posted by skippy [378 posts]
16th February 2011 - 16:06

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this is exactly what we should do, unfortunately it'll never happen, people are too weak.

posted by fxceltic [28 posts]
17th February 2011 - 16:13

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i seem to be in a minority here. The aim of any drug testing programme in any sport must be to prove illegal benefited to performance to gain an unfair and therefor illegal advantage. If you take any drugs and it doesn't affect performance due to the levels in the body being so low as to be irrelevant then where is the crime - I fail to see what the problem is. The level of this drug in Contador's body had been reported to be so low to offer no benefit or advantage.

It drives me nuts when people jump on the band wagon and castigate the athlete and the sport when there was according to the reports absolutely no way there could have been an unfair advantage in taking this miniscule amount of this drug.

I am not a great fan of Contador, buts fair fair. I see no reason for this witch hunt. None of the governing bodies seem to have been able to prove unfair advantage. Just whatever was found in the system. If you think Contador should be castigated when he gained no advantage I feels shows that this is then not about an uproar against cheating but something much more pathetic.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [117 posts]
18th February 2011 - 22:13

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Ciaran, clenbuterol is a zero tolerance drug. If it's in a cyclist's system, the rules say that cyclist should be done. End of. You can disagree with that rule but you can't suddenly start talking about acceptable lower limits just because the cyclist in question happens to be a big shot.

I actually am (was? I don't know...) a fan of Contador but I still think it's completely wrong that he's off the hook, however convincing his story and however low the dose. The truth is, none of us knows if he's guilty or innocent - maybe he's just stupid or unlucky, or maybe he's as guilty as sin - but that's kind of irrelevant. He should still have to live by the rules like everyone else.

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
19th February 2011 - 0:58

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