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Alberto Contador: How strong is the doping case against him?

Alberto Contador, winner of this year's Tour de France, tested positive for a banned substance during the race. The cycling superstar says he was a victim of food contamination.

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The case of US swimmer Jessica Hardy, who gave up her spot on the 2008 Beijing Olympic team after testing positive for the same drug, offers support for Contador’s defense. Her two-year ban was ultimately reduced by half after it was determined that she had inadvertently ingested clenbuterol, an anabolic agent used to treat asthma, which she blamed on contaminated food supplements.

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Hardy’s lawyer Howard Jacobs, who has made a name for himself defending athletes accused of doping, said in a 2008 Monitor interview that two-thirds of his cases involve such inadvertent use.

While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) holds elite athletes responsible for remaining free of banned drugs, Jacobs said the system has become so unwieldy – without the proper checks and balances – that innocent athletes are too often being slapped with doping convictions, ruining their careers.

Reformed doper urges caution

British cyclist David Millar, an admitted doper who repented and has made an impressive comeback – taking second at today’s world cycling championships – urged caution in Contador’s case.

He criticized authorities for making the case public before a thorough investigation could take place.

“I think there's a very strong chance that this is being blown way out of proportion,” he was quoted as saying by cycling website “I would 100 percent give Alberto the benefit of the doubt. You have to understand that these things can be quite complicated, and it is a shame it is out there when it could be something completely innocent. Let’s wait and see.”

"It's a shame that it's been released when it hasn't been resolved,” he added. “I think it's something that should be resolved behind closed doors and done the way it should be done properly."

'No threshold' for clenbuterol

While the amount of clenbuterol detected is miniscule, doping authorities said any amount could be grounds for banning the athlete.

"Clenbuterol is a forbidden substance, whatever the amount which is detected,” Pierre Bordry, who resigned his post as head of the French Anti-Doping Agency last week, blaming a lack of political will to support the work, told RTL radio. “If they really found it, it's forbidden."

"There is no such thing as a limit where you don't have to prosecute cases,” added WADA Chairman David Howman in an Associated Press interview. “This is not a substance that has a threshold."

"Clenbuterol is a substance that has been used for over 20 to 30 years," he added. "It is not anything new. Nobody has ever suggested it is something you can take inadvertently."

But clearly Hardy’s case proves otherwise. Maybe Contador’s will, too.