The chairman of the Spanish cycling federation, the RFEC, has said that it may take up to three months, significantly longer than the one month stipulated under UCI rules, for it to reach a decision in the doping case that has engulfed three time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.
At the end of September, it was revealed that a urine sample taken from the Astana rider on 21 July, the second rest day of this year’s Tour de France, was found to contain minute amounts of the banned substance, clenbuterol, which Contador maintains resulted from his having eaten a contaminated steak.
In a statement released yesterday evening, the sport’s governing body said that following “a long and meticulous enquiry” conducted by experts accredited by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), and “considering all the information currently in its possession, the UCI has concluded that disciplinary proceedings should be opened against Alberto Contador.”
Article 280 of the UCI’s Anti-doping Regulations provides that “The proceedings before the hearing panel of the License-Holder’s National Federation must be completed within 1 (one) month from the time limit set for the dispatch of the summons.”
It adds that “The National Federation shall be penalized by the disciplinary commission, incurring a fine of CHF 5000 for each week’s delay without prejudice to the obligation to complete proceedings as fast as possible.”
However, yesterday evening, Carlos Castaño, the President of the RFEC, told the Spanish sports newspaper Marca that Contador’s case needed to be settled “within three months,” although he added that it would be “desirable” to reach a resolution before that.
Should the case not be resolved within three months, then as well as the fine stipulated under Article 280, the RFEC may become liable for legal costs and the case settled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), as provided by Article 281 of the UCI Anti-doping Regulations.
That scenario would inevitably raise comparisons with the Alejandro Valverde case. In May this year, the 2009 Vuelta winner was banned for two years, backdated to 1 January 2010, following an action brought before the CAS by the UCI and WADA.
Both bodies had been frustrated by the RFEC’s lack of opening disciplinary proceedings against the Caisse d’Epargne rider after a blood sample taken from him in Italy during the 2008 Tour de France were found to be a DNA match for blood stored in codenamed bags seized under the Spanish Operacion Puerto investigation.
Valverde remains the only Spanish cyclist to have been officially sanctioned as a result of Operacion Puerto, which revolved around the former Kelme team doctor, Eufemiano Fuentes. Contador was investigated as part of Operacion Puerto, although he was subsequently cleared by both the Spanish courts and the UCI.
Castaño, who according to Marca has known Contador since the cyclist was a child, told the newspaper that he had received six emails from the UCI attaching all the relevant documentation, adding that usually one email would be sufficient and that the amount of paperwork was “much larger than in a normal case.”
The fate of Contador, who is due to join Bjarne Riis’s SunGard-Saxo Bank team for the 2011 season, will be decided by the RFEC’s four-man Competition Committee, and Castaño insisted that if it was found that he was in the wrong, the cyclist would have to bear responsibility for that.
He added that the committee “would not show any favourable treatment because it was Contador,” and that instead it should apply the rules and seek to be fair.
Press reports in France shortly after news broke of Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol suggested that traces of plasticizers, potentially linked to illegal blood transfusions, had also been found in samples taken from the rider during this year’s Tour de France.
While the test to detect the presence of such material has not yet been sanctioned by WADA, doping experts have suggested that those findings, if true, could be used to support other evidence that could be linked to doping.
Castaño, however, has said that the instruction issued by the UCI relates only to the discovery of clenbuterol in Contador’s urine.
Contador’s press agent, Jacinto Vidarte, said that the UCI’s decision to refer the case to the RCEF was “normal and was what we expected." He added that Contador would be able to “present all the documents in which he will show that this is a clear case of food contamination.”
The full text of the UCI statement released yesterday evening is as follows:
"The UCI requests the opening of disciplinary proceedings against Alberto Contador
The International Cycling Union (UCI) today requested the Spanish National Cycling Federation (RFEC) to open disciplinary proceedings against the rider Alberto Contador. This request complies with the procedure set out by the World Anti-Doping Code as established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
On 23 August 2010, the Cologne laboratory sent the UCI an analysis report indicating an abnormal result (presence of clenbuterol) in a urine sample taken from the Spanish rider during a test carried out on 21 July, the second rest day of the 2010 Tour de France. The laboratory simultaneously sent this information to WADA.
Duly informed of these facts and the probability of his impending provisional suspension, Alberto Contador requested the analysis of the B sample on 26 August 2010. This examination took place on 8 September 2010 and confirmed the traces of clenbuterol. For additional safety, considering the very low concentration detected, the UCI continued scientific investigations in collaboration with WADA. In particular, it conducted a series of new analyses on all the blood and urine samples taken from the rider in the period in question.
In accordance with the provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code applicable to the case, the UCI thus declared the provisional suspension of Alberto Contador from 24 August 2010.
At the end of a long and meticulous enquiry entrusted to highly qualified, WADA-accredited experts, and considering all the information currently in its possession, the UCI has concluded that disciplinary proceedings should be opened against Alberto Contador. The UCI has today sent its request to the Spanish Federation that has competence in this regard. It is now the responsibility of this Federation to determine whether Alberto Contador has breached the UCI Anti-Doping Rules. In the meantime, until the end of the proceedings and despite his provisional suspension, Alberto Contador still benefits from a presumption of innocence.
Under the World Anti-Doping Code and the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, the UCI is unable to provide any additional until these proceedings have been completed."
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.