D-Day looms for Alberto Contador

Decision from Spanish authorities due within day's, say Tour de France champ's lawyers...

Three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador should learn what sanction, if any, will be imposed on by his national governing body following his failed test for clenbuterol during this year’s race within days, according to press reports.

The case is currently before the disciplinary committee of the Spanish national cycling federation, the RFEC, after being referred by world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, on 7 November.

Yesterday, according to a report from the Associated Press cited by The New York Times, Contador’s lawyer, Andy Ramos, has stated that a decision could come “any day.”

Contador is not disputing the finding that there were minute traces of clenbuterol – a substance for which no minimum threshold is required to produce a positive test – in his urine, but he is contesting how it got there, his defence based on claims that he had eaten a contaminated steak.

The RFEC's enquiry does not address the issue of plasticizers allegedly found in other samples taken from Contador, which can provide evidence of an illegal blood transfusion, and for which there is currently no aproved test.

If Contador is found guilty, he is likely to face a two-year ban and be stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title. The only other rider to have lost the maillot jaune after wearing it on the top step of the Champs-Elysées podium is the American, Floyd Landis, following his failed drugs test in 2006.

Should the RFEC decide not to discipline the rider, who is due to ride for Team Sungard-Saxo Bank next year after leaving Astana, that would leave the door open for the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Earlier this year, the CAS banned Caisse d’Epargne rider Alejandro Valvarde after upholding an appeal against the 2009 Vuelta winner by the UCI and WADA, which had been frustrated by the RFEC failure to open disciplinary proceedings against the Spanish rider in relation to his being linked to Operacion Puerto.

Last month, the Spanish governing body’s president, who is not a member of the committee hearing the case, said that he hoped that Contador, whom he has known since the cyclist was a youngster, would be cleared, which gave rise to concerns that the RFEC may not be fully objective in addressing the case.

According to The New York Times, anti-doping experts say that it will be difficult for Contador to prove that the presence of clenbuterol was due to contaminated meat, because that evidence – the steak – no longer exists.

However, Ramos says that Contador will cite other cases in a bid to prove his innocence, including that of French tennis player Richard Gasquet, who won an appeal after testing positive for cocaine, after he demonstrated that he had acquired traces of the drug from a waitress whom he had kissed; Gasquet’s hair showed no traces of regular cocaine use, while a sample of the waitress’s hair did.

Ramos insists that the minute amount of clenbuterol found in Contador’s urine will likewise demonstrate his client’s innocence, saying: “Not one of the scientists we have worked with has said it couldn’t have been anything but contamination. The levels are ridiculous. It couldn’t be anything else.”

However, anti-doping expert Christiane Ayotte, who operates a WADA lab near Montreal, maintains that even minimal levels of clenbuterol can provide proof of substance abuse. “Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not doping,” she said, emphasising that tiny amounts are regularly discovered in samples. “This is just the dopers adjusting or misadjusting to the testing,” she added.

Neverthless, Contador – who was also investigated as part of Operacion Puerto, although he was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing by both the Spanish courts and the UCI – insist that he has never doped, and his lawyers have cited a case involving a German table tennis player as further support for their argument that he be found innocent.

That case involved the player Dimitrij Ovtcharov, with the German federation clearing him of deliberately taking clenbuterol after accepting his claim that he ate contaminated meat in China, where the risk of eating meat tainted in this way is higher than it is in Spain.

That case has not as yet been fully resolved, with WADA considering appealing the ruling to the CAS, and according to The New York Times, it has already filed the necessary paperwork in order to comply with court deadlines.

Some will feel that a decision in Contador's case is overdue, even if the RFEC's verdict is unlikely to bring the saga to a close. It's now more than four months since the sample that tested positive was taken, and over two months have passed since news of his failed test were made public at the end of September.

Simon has been news editor at 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.

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