Alberto Contador returns to cycling circuit, but showdown looms over doping claims
Spain's cycling federation cleared Alberto Contador of doping charges, but international officials seek a fresh review. At issue are Contador's intent and Spain's impartiality.
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“It’s up to the athlete to prove that whatever product got into his system – in this case clenbuterol – got in without his knowledge,” UCI president Pat McQuaid told journalists from the Tour of Oman. “In this case, my understanding is that Contador has not proven that, but until such time as we see the full dossier we can't really comment on it.”Skip to next paragraph
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Contador's intent under scrutiny
The Spanish champ is fighting an uphill battle, experts agree.
“The general rule is that doping infractions are not about intentionality of having an unfair advantage. You have violated the rules because you have illegal substance in your body and it's your duty to see that you don’t,” says Paulsson. “It’s not up to doping authorities is to prove intentionality. The system couldn’t work and it would die.”
He cited the example of equestrian cases when owners allege a horse’s hay is contaminated by competitors to disqualify them. “The witness can’t tell you much, so how do you decide? It makes legislating on this area difficult.”
Contador has accused anti-doping organizations of making him a scapegoat. He called for revamping current rules to set minimum thresholds for investigation, arguing that as testing technologies advance they are able to detect increasingly minute traces that may be due to contamination rather than intentional doping.
But few expect any change of heart from international bodies.
“Contamination has been an issue for years. It becomes more of an issue as detections improves," says Howard Jacobs, a California-based lawyer who advocates for athletes in doping cases, including Floyd Landis, the only cyclist to have been stripped of the Tour de France. "As tests get more sensitive you will have more contamination cases. But so far WADA has not shown any inclination to adopt lower thresholds to deal with these contamination problems.”
Mr. Jacobs helped Jessica Hardy, a US swimmer who missed the Beijing Olympics after testing positive for clenbuterol, to win a reduced sentence on the grounds that the drug had come from a contaminated food supplement – a ruling CAS upheld.
In Contador’s case, the Spanish federation appears to have backed the cyclist's allegations that he didn’t knowingly dope himself and that the minute traces of clenbuterol found in his body could not have been ingested voluntarily, much less with the intent of improving his performance. Some medical experts support those arguments in Contador’s case.
Spain under fire for partiality
The official justification of Spain’s federation hasn’t been made public, but Contador’s defense made no secret of its arguments.
The reversal also came after last week’s unusual support from Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who tweeted “there is no legal reason” to justify a suspension of Contador.
The UCI’s top official criticized the tweet as meddling.
“It’s up to sport to police itself and sport should be allowed to do that," said McQuaid. “I don't think [the process] should be interfered with by politicians when they don't know the full facts.”
McQuaid called the involvement “unwarranted” and warned “it doesn't help the image of Spain either. It shows they’re biased towards supporting their own regardless of what the facts of the case might be.”
He hopes a final decision will be made before the next Tour de France in July.
Contador argues that the case is not about "patriotism" but is a "legal and scientific issue." But meanwhile, he is enjoying being back in the saddle with fellow competitors.
"I haven't had this much fun for some time," said Contador after today's race. "These have been some tough months."