Team Saxo Bank have confirmed that Alberto Contador will rejoin the Danish WorldTour outfit when the ban imposed on him earlier this year following a positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France expires on 5th August. The 29-year-old Spaniard will race for Bjarne Riis’s team for the rest of the 2012 season and for a further three years from 1 January.
"A lot of speculations and rumours have surrounded Alberto Contador and his future in the past months, but both our sponsors, the team and Alberto have shared the same wish to continue and built on our relationship,” said Riis, who signed the Spaniard from Astana shortly after he had won the 2010 Tour de France, his third victory in the race.
Contador was still an Astana rider when he was provisionally suspended for that positive test, and began racing with Saxo Bank in February 2011 after he was cleared of doping by the Spanish national cycling federation, the RFEC, which had earlier said that it planned to hand him a one-year ban.
Soon afterwards, the UCI and World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) confirmed that they planned to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Contador went on to win last year’s Giro d’Italia but would finish fifth in the Tour, partly as a result of the toll the Italian race had taken on him, and partly due to his losing time as a result of being caught up in crashes in the opening week; continued delays in the appeal process, which it had been hoped would be resolved prior to the Tour, can’t have helped, however.
The case was eventually heard in Lausanne, Switzerland in November, with the decision announced early in February this year, although there was plenty of drama ad controversy along the way.
Those included reports of a threatened walkout by WADA’s lawyers after certain evidence was ruled inadmissible, news of a mystery witness apparently prepared to testify that Contador had doped earlier in his career, and allegations that the cyclist’s presence at a Saxo Bank training camp in Israel, the native country of the chairman of the CAS panel hearing the case, meant that all was not above board.
The decision announced in February, however, saw Contador receive a two-year ban, most of it backdated, and stripped of results including his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia victories.
Riis, who had sat alongside Contador at a press conference in the rider's home town of Pinto, near Madrid, the day after the ban was announced, said today: “All along throughout these last two tough years we have stood by Alberto, so to be able to announce his return to the team is something I have been really looking forward to.
“Now we can put an end to these speculations and start focusing on building the team for the coming years."
Contador, who is reportedly moving to Swizerland where Riis with whom he has developed a close working relationship, said: "The decision to return to Team Saxo Bank has actually been pretty easy, and my first priority was always to rejoin the team and to continue working with Bjarne Riis, and the rest of the team.
“The support I have experienced from them in a very difficult situation is extraordinary. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the bike, and my aim is to repay that support, hopefully with some great results."
Contador is due to ride in the Vuelta a Espana which starts in August. He won that race in 2008, his first season with Astana, which had been excluded from that year’s Tour de France as a result of a major doping scandal in the previous year’s edition of the race when Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for an illegal blood transfusion and the team was subsequently invited to withdraw from the race.
Last week, it was reported that Saxo Bank was exploring a potential merger with the Liquigas-Cannondale team at the end of the season.
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.