Alberto Contador to ride Giro d'Italia - a diplomatic way of avoiding the Tour de France?

Spanish rider speaks after yesterday's exoneration from doping charges by national federation

by Simon_MacMichael   February 16, 2011  

Alberto Contador Press Conference in Yellow © PhotoSport International.jpg

Alberto Contador insists that “justice has prevailed” following his being cleared yesterday of doping charges and has revealed he plans to ride the Giro d’Italia in May. Given that few top riders choose to attempt the Giro and Tour de France in the same year, that could be a politically expedient way of relieving Tour organisers ASO of debating whether to exclude him from the race in which he tested positive for clenbuterol last year.

Contador has twice before missed cycling's biggest race, which he won in 2007 and 2009 as well as last July. In 2006, his then team Liberty Seguros was prevented from starting the Tour due to the breaking Operacion Puerto scandal. Contador was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

He won the following year's race with the Discovery Channel team, but following his transfer at to Astana for the 2008 season, missed that year's Tour as the team was not invited to the race following its ejection from the 2007 edition as a result of Alexandre Vinokourov being found to have performed an illegal blood transfusion.

Instead, Contador concentrated on the Giro and Vuelta that year, winning both, and making him the only current rider to have won all three of cycling's Grand Tours.  

The Saxo Bank SunGard rider was speaking last night to Pedro J Ramirez, founder and editor of the newspaper El Mundo, on the Veo7 channel’s TV show El Vuelta al Mundo, just hours after his exoneration from doping charges brought against him as a result of that positive test as he rode to his third Tour de France victory in July.

Quoted in Spanish sports daily Marca, the 27-year-old, who comes from Pinto near Madrid, said: "I’ve undergone an ordeal in the past few months that I would not wish on anyone. You need to go through it to really understand what it feels like, but ultimately justice and professionalism has prevailed.”

That’s not a sentiment that appears to be shared by many outside Spain, who until news broke on Monday that Contador was set to be cleared had assumed that the former Astana rider was to be punished with a one-year ban, as the RFEC had indicated it would do just a fortnight ago.

In a comment that echoes the protestations of the RFEC’s disciplinary committee yesterday evening that its apparent about-turn had not been due to “political and media pressure,” as had been alleged by some elements in the Spanish press, Contador insisted, “Let no-one think that this decision was based on an attack of patriotism on the part of the Federation. This absolution is a matter of justice.”

Rather disingenuously, perhaps, Contador immediately went on to thank several public figures who had proclaimed his innocence, saying “without doubt the support of people like [Latin American singer-songwriter] Alejandro Blanco, the Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero and [leader of the opposition] Mariano Rajoy has been of great value."

Contador revealed that the criticism he has attracted in recent months from those who believe in his guilt, and who will continue to view his reputation as being as tainted as the steak he claims was responsible for clenbuterol ending up in his body, has taken its toll.

“What has hurt me most are the serious attacks against my honour,” he maintained. “People have said barbaric things about me and that has done me irreparable damage. Now I have another scar, besides that on my skull [referring to the one resulting from surgery in 2004 for a a cerebral cavernoma], one that is inside me and will remain with me for the rest of my life.”

Contador said that had the case gone against him, he would have appealed, but not to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which is likely to be hearing from WADA and the UCI very soon as they seek to have the RFEC’s decision overturned and a ban imposed. They have 30 days from yesterday to lodge any appeal.

“I would have appealed, but not to CAS,” he stated. “My lawyers and I were brainstorming the possibility of what would happen in the event of a one-year ban, and we had prepared a course of action that did not include CAS.”

That line of appeal might have involved the Spanish courts, with with French newspaper L’Equipe reporting on Monday that Contador and his advisors had never been forwarded a letter that the UCI had sent to the RFEC in November, which they said breached his rights under the Spanish constitution as an accused party in a legal process.

If that is correct, then even if CAS were to impose a ban on Contador following any appeal from WADA and the UCI, he might then seek to challenge that decision in the appropriate courts due to his constitutional rights being prejudiced during the original investigation.

Speaking at the Tour of Oman, UCI President Pat McQuaid said that the papers needed to be reviewed before a decision was made on whether to appeal the RFEC's decision, reports AFP.

"At the UCI we don't know the case sufficiently. We received a 25-page summary yesterday [Tuesday] and are waiting to receive the complete file to study it and to really see what is behind this affair," said McQuaid at the Tour of Oman cycling race.

"That will be done in conjunction with WADA even if the decision to appeal or not will be taken by the UCI. We'll have 30 days from the time we receive the file."

Referring to Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero's commments earlier this week that "there is no legal reason to sanction Contador" as Spain's politicians rallied to the cyclist's defence, McQuaid said, "Nothing surprises me any more.

"On the other hand I'm disappointed by the political pressure in Spain. That doesn't help with a calm investigation.

"I don't understand why politicans have to meddle in sport which has its own disciplinary procedures. Having said that I don't blame the Spanish cycling federation which did its job investigating in a serious manner."

McQuaid added: "I hope that the affair will be definitively closed before the start of the next Tour de France. I work tirelessly to ensure the credibility of cycling by doing the maximun for riders who respect the rules. All the rules."

Contador has wasted no time getting back in the saddle, finally making his Saxo Bank SunGard debut today in the opening stage of the Tour of the Algarve, where he is defending champion.

After that, he plans to ride in the Volta a Catalunya, the Vuelta a Castilla y León and the Ardennes Classics, before taking on the Giro, a race he won in 2008.

“I want to fight to win it, it’s the nicest race,” he explained. It remains to be seen how cycling fans outside the Iberian peninsula will react to the sight of Contador on the road again, but it doesn’t look like we’ll have long to wait.

Should he decide not to take part in the Tour de France - or if ASO decides that he is persona non grata - Contador, assuming the CAS had not already ruled against him in any prospective appeal, would be likely to lead his team in the Vuelta, which starts in August, where he would be guaranteed of a friendly reception from Spanish fans.
 

14 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

**SLAP**

andylul's picture

posted by andylul [412 posts]
16th February 2011 - 13:00

3 Likes

He was caught with a tiny amount of clenbuterol in his system - and this drug has zero limit
The lab was able to screen with an accuracy of 40 times the legal requirement...
He must have been tested a few days before and a few days after and nothing showed up
So does anyone know what amount of clenbuterol would give you any benefit (or how much would be left behind by an illegal transfusion?)
Without knowing this it is difficult to draw any conclusion whether or not he did anything wrong
Or am I also being too liberal?

... ... need more speed!

JC's picture

posted by JC [127 posts]
16th February 2011 - 13:08

2 Likes

the question isn't whether he did anything wrong or not, it's about the application of rules. As you say the rules give zero tolerance for this drug. Further rules impart strict liability to the defendant to prove their innocence. Nothing made public so far has given sufficient proof to the notion that the clenbuterol was ingested from tainted meat. Until Contador produces this evidence there are many that will doubt him as a cheat.

I won't do that, however I will doubt him as being someone who is seemingly above the rules as they have been applied to others.

posted by pjt201 [97 posts]
16th February 2011 - 13:24

2 Likes

JC wrote:
He was caught with a tiny amount of clenbuterol in his system - and this drug has zero limit
The lab was able to screen with an accuracy of 40 times the legal requirement...
He must have been tested a few days before and a few days after and nothing showed up
So does anyone know what amount of clenbuterol would give you any benefit (or how much would be left behind by an illegal transfusion?)
Without knowing this it is difficult to draw any conclusion whether or not he did anything wrong
Or am I also being too liberal?

The quantity he had in his system is certainly far too small to be of any therapeutic benefit. But maybe he was using clenbuterol whilst training. Then, after a period of time during which it was assumed that clenbuterol levels would have fallen below the level at which they are detectable, extracted some blood to be re-transfused during the Tour de France. The alleged detection of plasticisers in his urine (from the blood bag) might support this scenario.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1347 posts]
16th February 2011 - 15:07

2 Likes

Why don't the French just do to him what the Italians did to Valverde.

Another case where the Spanish authorities were reluctant to actually do anything.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [536 posts]
16th February 2011 - 15:14

2 Likes

... yes, yes, the rules. Yawn
If the blood sample was sent to another certified lab (without such accurate measuring kit) then no charges would have been made!
And surely all cyclist are being tested on a regular basis, during all competitions, most weeks
Little or no chance to slip through the net?

@cat1commuter
“maybe used it when training”
“alleged detection of plasticisers in his urine”
… that isn’t going to stand up in court

That all said - I think it is more important to understand whether he deliberately cheated.

... ... need more speed!

JC's picture

posted by JC [127 posts]
16th February 2011 - 15:26

2 Likes

cat1commuter wrote:
JC wrote:
He was caught with a tiny amount of clenbuterol in his system - and this drug has zero limit
The lab was able to screen with an accuracy of 40 times the legal requirement...
He must have been tested a few days before and a few days after and nothing showed up
So does anyone know what amount of clenbuterol would give you any benefit (or how much would be left behind by an illegal transfusion?)
Without knowing this it is difficult to draw any conclusion whether or not he did anything wrong
Or am I also being too liberal?

The quantity he had in his system is certainly far too small to be of any therapeutic benefit. But maybe he was using clenbuterol whilst training. Then, after a period of time during which it was assumed that clenbuterol levels would have fallen below the level at which they are detectable, extracted some blood to be re-transfused during the Tour de France. The alleged detection of plasticisers in his urine (from the blood bag) might support this scenario.

Perhaps the dodgy steak was brought to France in a blood bag?

elbooch's picture

posted by elbooch [24 posts]
16th February 2011 - 15:49

2 Likes

I have to second pjt201 who has said pretty much the same that I have been posting these last few days.

If you Google Clenbuterol you will find that in addition to it's promotion of lean mass over fat, it is also a bronchodilator and is used by some asthma sufferers to aid breathing.

Contador had not raised prior to TdF as he was said to have flu. In the early 10 days or so of 2010 Tour AC had not been quite up to his best but then did pick up in the second half of the race. So maybe (and obviously I am just being a conspiracy theorist here) the drug was used to promote/improve breathing in an athlete with a still compromised respiratory system. And maybe that is why the dose is so low? Just something to consider and I'm sure these multi million pound governing bodies must have considered this!?!?

bikeandy61's picture

posted by bikeandy61 [391 posts]
16th February 2011 - 16:25

2 Likes

JC wrote:
And surely all cyclist are being tested on a regular basis, during all competitions, most weeks. Little or no chance to slip through the net?

Yes, that's something that occurred to me to. I would imagine that a rider like Contador would get random tests frequently enough that it wouldn't be worth the risk of using Clenbuterol during training.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1347 posts]
16th February 2011 - 21:50

2 Likes

need more speed

yes you are being too liberal ,

the scenario here is that the technique used is microdoping , putting back small amounts of blood at a time that maintain a high 'healthy haemaglobin' level to keep the biological passport happy and stable, ie regular microdoping not one big hit

the fact that there is a report of plasticizers in the urine would suggest stored produce

the scenario therefore could be that the very low levels are because at the time the blood was taken from his system earlier in the year , and this is pure speculation , but when he went awol with that mistery 'cold' earlier in the season when the results werent too good, he had a therapeutic ie real dose of clembuterol in his system, a small amount was therefore in the blood syphoned off that was subsequently replaced that day , giving a temporary low level, the small amount transfused is diluted into the rest of his circulation, giving a very low level that would not be useful to him , that cannot easily be explained

I would leave it to you to as to whether you believe in the explaination above , the tainted beef theory or the tooth fairy
the fact is this speculation shouldnt need to take place , regardless he had the drug in his system , it is a zero tolerance drug .... would you suggest we set a 'lower limit' that you can cheat 'up to' what if it had been one of the British riders , what would our committee have done.... 2 year ban

posted by stevefisher [40 posts]
17th February 2011 - 15:37

2 Likes

I'm not the biggest fan of El Pistolero, but I've had the feeling that he really is innocent of doping throughout this whole procedure. As others have pointed out, Contador is tested a ridiculous amount. As the most successful stage race rider of recent years, he is always under heightened scrutiny, and before this, he has always tested clean.

I do think Contador's "tainted steak" defense is plausible, unlike many others. Spain really does import a lot of beef from South America, where they use clenbuterol on animals regularly. The food supply chain is always murky, even to government officials. Of course the butcher wouldn't advertise the fact if his beef was from South America. This defense also explains why there was such a small amount.

I actually think accidental ingestion of the steroid from a medicine is more likely. Contador had lots of respiratory issues leading up to the TDF, and it's not unlikely to presume he needed some medication during it to reduce swelling in his lungs.

As for the plasticizers, well, that sounds fishy to me. The test results shouldn't even have been publicized since the test isn't official. My guess is the plasticizers came from the container Contador's doping control sample was held in. Why has nobody mentioned that possibility?

posted by rcs500 [60 posts]
17th February 2011 - 16:33

2 Likes

the argument that the clembuterol would have been used to help his breathing as a genuine drug when he was 'ill' is extreemly unlikely .
it is not a drug routinely used in the care of bronchospasm /asthma in Europe.
Any reputable team doctor would have also sought clearance for the use of the mor eregular products such as salbutamol that are allowed for medical condition , but with a level ,

the only reason for having clembuterol in the system of an athlete is that it was put there deliberately to cheat
or if you want to be a conspiracy theorist that someone else spiked the food of a poor innocent spanish rider who had previously not been proved guilty in operation peuto had ridden for some of the teams who had seemed to have had issues, and failed this test because of tainted meat
as said above it is more likely that hte 'flu episode removes a cyclist from the testing arena, (was he tested duing that time

and have his other samples been re run through the tighter lab that analysed these samples.

posted by stevefisher [40 posts]
17th February 2011 - 16:33

1 Like

Ick, this whole affair is so shady.

posted by rcs500 [60 posts]
17th February 2011 - 16:39

2 Likes

the tainted steak defence is not plausable , and if it is so widely known that spanish beef contains clembuterol , why would any team in their right mind let their multimillion pound lead rider eat the stuff.

their diet is calorie controlled, counted dished out analysed , they dont have a glass of squash without it being measured. the idea that the team would sit betie down and say we got in some unlicenced spanish steak , fill your guts up has got to be the biggest load of rubbish ever suggested ,

posted by stevefisher [40 posts]
17th February 2011 - 16:57

2 Likes