Alberto Contador, who should learn within the coming week what punishment if any is to be imposed on him by the Spanish national cycling federation following his failed test for clenbuterol in last year’s Tour de France, which the cyclist insists is due to his having eaten a contaminated steak, has presented further evidence including “new information” in a last effort to escape a ban.
The RFEC said last month that it intends to ban the former Astana rider, now with Saxo Bank-SunGard, for a year, and Contador has said that he intends to fight any ban. Talking to Spain’s Radio Nacional, as reported on the website of the Spanish sports daily Marca, the 28-year-old continued to reinforce his insistence that tainted meat lay behind the presence of clenbuterol in his urine.
Although it’s not clear exactly what new evidence has been given to RFEC ahead of its decision, Contador says that "With the documentation submitted and the two new items we've introduced there is hope that this changes matters. The rule says there must be responsibility and negligence on the part of the athlete to apply for a sanction to be applied.
“One athlete tested positive for Mexico, where they use clenbuterol on cattle, but in the European Union meat passes through controls and it is forbidden to raise livestock with this substance. I could not have believed that this meat was contaminated.”
That, Contador believes, gives him a strong enough case to demonstrate that he is free from blame, enabling him to benefit from UCI rules that can absolve a cyclist or provide for a shorter ban in certain circumstances, with the three time Tour de France winner saying, "It's the perfect case to demonstrate the absence of negligence, and if this principle is not used, none of this makes sense.”
Anti-doping rules do not set a minimum threshold when it comes to clenbuterol, meaning that even the tiniest amount of the substance is enough to return a positive test, as happened in Contador’s case, but the cyclist says he is relying on Articles 296 and 297 of the UCI’s anti-doping rules.
Article 296 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.”
The wording of Article 297 differs and applies to cases where the rider establishes he has “No Significant Fault or Negligence,” presumably less onerous to prove than under Article 296, but which at most sees any ban only reduced by half, and again the cyclist must demonstrate how the substance came to be in his system.
Referring to how his case has progressed, Contador said, “At first it was a nightmare, and now is a feeling of disappointment. When they say a year’s ban and you see that the work you’ve done has been for nothing, you sink. But now I have hope,” he insisted, adding, “I will fight to the end.
Contador, who comes from just outside Madrid, also revealed that he had received support from Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who spent several years in an ultimately successful attempt to clear his name after testing positive for nandrolene while playing in Italy.
"Guardiola did not stop until he was acquitted,” said Contador. “It is a similar case to mine. It is sad that so much time went by until he proved his innocence. Now the experts know that a threshold has to be set for clenbuterol. Until we change the rules, no barriers will be established and unfair cases will be punished,” he maintained, adding that he and Guardiola had “exchanged some messages” when news of his failed test became public.
In the interview, Contador also reiterated comments made in recent days that he had changed his mind about retiring from cycling if he were banned due in part to the public support he had received, and also stated that he did not believe that he had been persecuted by the authorities.
He added he won’t touch steak again during big races for as long as he continues to be a professional cyclist.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.