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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...

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.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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