The three-time winner of the Tour de France, Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador, is sure the minute traces of a performance-enhancing drug found in his urine came from a steak that a friend gave him during this year's race.
Mr. Contador, whose positive test came on a rest day, could not deny himself “really good meat” that a friend of his had brought to France, considering “all the trouble that this person had gone through.”
Four other cyclists from his team also had their share of the same meat the day before Contador's test, but none of them had been tested for doping. A Dutch doctor consulted by Contador's attorney said that the cyclist could have ingested clenbuterol since it’s known to be an illegal growth agent in cattle.
Contador stands to lose his title if the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rule that he knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs. An investigation is currently under way.
In an emotional press conference, cycling's superstar defended his innocence and called into question an antidoping regime that has not only helped clean up sport but has also raised questions about whether its rigidity has ensnared innocent athletes.
“I’m the victim,” said Contador, on the verge of tears from his hometown of Pinto, in the outskirts of Madrid. “I could have written a script, but my script is the truth. I trust that [regulating bodies] will confirm this case. I understand that it is not easy for them because it questions their rules.”
'This is an authentic mistake'
When asked why it took him so long to disclose the findings, which he had known about since Aug. 24, Contador said: “If this case had been solved internally, the image of our sport wouldn’t have been damaged. This is an authentic mistake. But at the end, it’s best that everyone finds out. It’s sad that a sport like ours and sports in general are exposed to scandals like this one because of these regulations.”
Spanish press are certainly taking Contador’s side, despite the fact that this is not the first time he's found himself in the middle of a doping controversy. Just ahead of the 2006 Tour de France, he was implicated in Spain's Operacion Puerto doping investigation, though Spanish authorities and the international cycling federation later cleared him. Until now, no test results had suggested anything but a clean record.
“I’m sad, disappointed, but hold my head high,” Contador said. “I’ve been dealing with this for a month and a half, not sleeping, having a bad time. It won’t be easy, but I don’t think it will harm me.”
'The rules must be modified'
Contador said his legal defense were the urine and blood samples taken the days before and after the one showing traces of clenbuterol, a substance banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. “It is impossible to ingest such tiny quantities, except by food contamination. In terms of performance, it’s useless and any expert can confirm that.”
But he sees this as an opportunity for sports organizations to reform their outdated policies.
“It’s as if I had been an experiment to prove without doubt that the rules must be modified.” Contador is not worried about his latest Tour de France title being stripped. “I’m sad, disappointed, but I hold my head high,” Contador said. “It’s as if I had been sentenced to the electric chair, but wasn’t able to say anything.”
“I can speak loud and clear with truth on my side. Justice will be made," said Contador, who had finished racing for the season before being suspended.
“I will not allow a thing like this to destroy everything. My life is made already. I don’t need to keep cycling. But I won’t allow it,” Contador said. “I will not give up what I really love doing. It won’t be easy, but I don’t think it will affect me.”