Cadel Evans may have sealed his victory in the 2011 Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, but it could be Christmas before we find out who will officially be recognised as winner of last year’s race following the news that the appeal hearing relating to the Alberto Contador doping case, scheduled for next week, has once again been postponed, this time until November. Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins has said that Contador's innocence or guilt is "almost irrelevant now" and that the case needs to be resolved one way or the other.
Contador was cleared earlier this year by the Spanish national cycling federation, the RFEC, after testing positive for clenbuterol at last year’s Tour de France, which he won while riding for Astana. Andy Schleck, then with Saxo Bank, Contador’s current team, finished second, as he has now done for each of the past three years.
Initially, the RFEC had said that it proposed banning him for one year, and its decision to clear him altogether came as a surprise, although it followed high-profile statements of support made on Contador’s behalf by the Spanish prime minister and leader of the opposition.
With no minimum threshold required to test positive for clenbuterol and thereby receive a mandatory two-year ban, and Contador not disputing its presence in his system, but rather how it got there – he maintains it was from innocently eating a contaminated steak – the RFEC’s decision was appealed by world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Originally, the appeal hearing had been set for early June, meaning that the issue should have been resolved, one way or another, before the start of this year’s Tour de France.
It was then rescheduled for the beginning of August – the hearing was due to run from next Monday to Wednedsay – but has now been put back to an as yet unspecified date, “probably in November.”
In a statement, CAS said it had “allowed a request for a second exchange of written submissions between the parties as well as for a new procedural calendar.”
It added: “Such request was formulated by WADA with the unanimous agreement of the three other parties.”
The statement from CAS explained that “The second round of written submissions will allow the parties to complete their evidence and arguments relating to some specific scientific issues.”
Tour de France organisers ASO had wanted the situation regarding the 2010 race to have been cleared up before the start of this year’s 98th edition of the race, which Contador began as favourite having dominated the Giro d’Italia in May.
As it turned out, the Saxo Bank-SunGard rider ended up fifth overall, the first time in the last seven Grand Tours he has ridden that he has failed to win.
A difficult first week of the Tour saw the Spaniard lost time to most of his rivals when he was held up behind a crash. A subsequent knee injury after he himself came off meant that Contador’s defence of his title was in trouble even before he was dropped on the approach to the summit finish on the Galibier last Thursday.
Somehow, Contador recovered to engineer an attack on the Col du Telegraphe the following day that left all his rivals bar Schleck struggling, and when he attacked again on the Alpe d’Huez, the defending champion appeared to be on his way to an unlikely stage win before Europcar’s Pierre Rolland passed him a couple of kilometres out.
The Spaniard’s attack that day immediately put Rolland’s colleague Thomas Voeckler, who was spending his tenth day in the race leader’s maillot jaune, into trouble and even before the halfway point in the stage the Frenchman knew the game was up, giving his blessing to his younger team mate to himself go on the attack.
Team Sky’s Wiggins, who had crashed out of the race with a broken collarbone during the first week, was highly critical of this latest delay to a case that dates back to a doping control failed more than a year ago now.
"Whether he's innocent or guilty or whatever, it's almost irrelevant now," said the British champion, quoted on Sportinglife.com.
"A decision needs to be made either way. It's not fair on the events he's competing in.
"He had an outcome on the Tour de France last week, one way or another. He wasn't the best Contador we've seen, but him attacking on the Telegraphe changed the whole race.
"Voeckler went after him, Voeckler cracked and Voeckler probably lost the opportunity to be on the podium because Contador was in that race,” Wiggins pointed out.
"Is that fair? Should he be in the race?
"If he's innocent, fair enough, he should be allowed to race.
"But if he's not and this decision hasn't been made, then essentially he's been affecting the outcome of every race he's ridden for the last six months - and that isn't fair.
"That changes peoples lives, changes people's careers, changes people's salaries and Voeckler's missed the podium of the Tour de France.
"This sport needs people like Voeckler and that's disappointing,’ Wiggins insisted.
"That's now going to go on until November. It is disappointing, but it's going to continue.
"Why November? It's going to be well over a year since the thing happened.
"It's similar to [Alejandro] Valverde,” continued Wiggins, referring to the former Caisse d’Epargne rider eventually banned in May 2010 for his links to Operacion Puerto.
“Before you know it two years have passed and it's so long ago.”
Valverde, who apparently continues to train with the team, now sponsored by Movistar, was never sanctioned by the RFEC and was only banned when the UCI and WADA appealed to CAS to have a ban on his competing in Italy extended worldwide.
The Italian ban stemmed from the fact that a blood sample taken from Valverde during the 2008 Tour de France when it made a brief detour into Italy was found to be a DNA match for blood found in a bag seized as part of the Operacion Puerto investigation.
Wiggins concluded: "It's such a shame that. You expect nothing else at this stage. Nothing surprises me."
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