Contador cleared of charges. In Spain, sentiment beats science

Contador. Free to ride.

Wow, that tainted steak is really starting to reek.

The Spanish Cyclist Protection Agency decided to flip-flip and absolve Alberto Contador of all charges related to his positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol at last year’s Tour de France.

Jaws are dropping everywhere but Spain.

Back on January 26th, the Spanish Federation had announced a one year ban. Two days later, their president Juan Carlos Castano stated Contador should not appeal the ban to the Court for Arbitration in Sport. “I see it as very difficult that the case won’t become more complicated, including even making it worse,” said Castano.

Yet somehow, some way, in the short weeks that followed, Contador’s legal team convinced the four judges to change their minds. (We’re not ruling out hypnotism.)

According to some observers, the reversal was based on article 296 of the UCI’s regulations, which says an athlete can be exonerated if they prove they’d inadvertently ingested a banned product through no fault or negligence on their part.

What we’re wondering is why that “inadvertent” claim suddenly has validity after WADA and the UCI ruled it out five to six months back. Even the Spanish Federation ruled it out three weeks ago. Contador never even produced the tainted meat despite an all-out steak search.

Essentially, the case was decided on sentiment, not science. The sentiment being, Alberto is a really nice Spanish guy and we’re Spanish judges so we believe his contaminated cow story.

The other escape theory being put forward by the French L’Equipe is based on a legal technicality. Basically, that the Spanish Federation failed to promptly notify Contador of any accusations or information from the UCI. It’s a protocol infraction, a calendar oversight, and given the track record of the Federation, a weak but convenient get Alberto out of jail card.

Head of the US Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, told the New York Times, “If there’s truly been a flip-flop, as reported, it appears to be a classic example of the fox protecting the henhouse. It would look like they are protecting a national hero.” Nice, simple dissection, Travis.

While test results and scientific analysis didn’t seem to carry much weight, a tweet apparently did. On Thursday, Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero went on twitter to proclaim: “There are no legal grounds for sanctioning Contador.” Funny, Zapatero neglected to offer words of support for Radio Shack’s Chinese rider Li Fuyu, who received a two year ban for clenbuterol.

And so professional cycling goes from tainted meat to tainted sport again. It’s the Spanish sequel to the ugly Alejandro Valverde-Operacion Puerto case.  This means a drawn-out, nasty legal battle in appeals court while Alberto Contador wins races riding under a dark cloud of suspicion. Expect Alberto to lose a lot more hair before this is finally decided.

We don’t truly know whether El Pistolero is guilty or innocent of doping charges. We only know the laws on the UCI books about what substances are banned, the resulting penalties and the responsibilities athletes have concerning what goes in their body. People can debate the trace amounts and how they might or might not have gotten there. But as Bicycling Magazine’s Joe Lindsey summed it up, that doesn’t really matter because “thems not the rules.”

Except in Spain, in professional cycling, when the rider in question is a national hero.

In the short term, this means Alberto Contador will race the Tour of Algave this week. In the long term, depending on court schedules, we should have an official winner of the 2010 Tour de France shortly before the 2011 Tour de France.

We’ll go back to a quote from November for the wrap-up. ”Personally, as the president of the cycling federation, I hope it’s resolved in favor of the athlete. I can’t help but feel this empathy with Alberto Contador.” That was Juan Carlos Castano and yes, empathy and nationalism won.

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  • jonM

    Spanish authorities spank the UCI and the UCI spanks Floyd… will anything ever change in the world of cycling?

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Jon, somebody described this as cycling's O.J. Simpson verdict. That's both revealing and scary. Matt

  • Pal

    Wow! Rocco just about kills himself with tomato juice from his frig, and now the Spanish Cycling Federation looks the other way. I suppose we could say let them ALL dope, but man, how many of these guys are going to end up looking like Barry Bonds or worse? This is more than the fox in charge, but the fox laying an egg! I hope the UCI and WADA go fast and hard to send a message to cyclist and to those responsible for making this sport fair and clean! Ugh… Why do we even follow this soap opera anymore?

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Fox laying egg– nice! The UCI is run by an incompetent buffoon named Pat McQuaid. They have little power and no leadership. As always, CAS will be forced to make the call and do the dirty work. Matt

  • Lee Zielinski

    So Contador gets a pass (can you say – only for a TdF champ) and the UCI dumps on Landis. Seems right when big money is involved. Say what you will but I miss LA. He is soooo underground that he won't see his shadow when he comes up.

    • Lee Zielinski

      My BS meter is finally pegged on cycling doping. Enough already!!

      • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

        Lee, the COntador show is just getting warmed up. My advice would be to upgrade your BS meter. You're gonna need it. Matt

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Armstrong was not only supremely talented and driven but also way smarter than most of these guys. He knew the rules to the game, how to abuse them and when to play along. One of the many reasons he's got seven. Matt

  • Ron

    Yea…
    If the Spanish fans can be tricked, you cant convict!
    If the Spanish fans can be tricked, you cant convict!
    If the Spanish fans can be tricked, you cant convict!

  • http://www.mauricio-soler.com FanDeSoler

    This is a crock & everybody knows it. But can we please refrain from comparing this to Landis' case? Seriously – Floyd's a nutcase beyond recognition, one pedal-clip from the madhouse; it's no stretch by anyone's imagination that Floyd's could find a vein w/ his eyes closed. Contador, on the other hand, is a composed, sly cheat; he knows the line to walk to get away with it.

    Bottom line – if Landis would have played his political cards the way Contador did, he would've been cleared too.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Totally agree with your last sentence. Landis is not a skilled card player. But … don't think I made any Landis refs in my piece, did I? Now, I actually believe 95% of everything Landis has claimed and yeah, he's as fuzzy on dates as the rest of us, given historical events. Still. love the one pedal-clip from the madhouse and I will steal that at some point. Matt

  • http://www.mauricio-soler.com FanDeSoler

    steal away! Lord knows I plagiarize your posts quite regularly!

    As for the Landis reference, it was actually a response to Lee Zielenski's post mentioning our favorite Mennonite – shame on me for not 'Reply'' -ing in the right box. Next time…next time.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Jon, no worries. I'm still hoping to meet the mad Mennonite. Chances are decent but it's taking a while. Matt

  • RideLikeaGirl1

    Big mistake by Contador not to accept the one year ban. His best days as a pro rider are over. He would have gotten off so easy, could have said he must accept the rules even though he didn't do it and was thinking about what is best for pro cycling. But now the door is going to slowly creep open with the truth.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      This is going to be a fascinating CAS case. As many experts and long time cycling jounalists have said, if COntador gets off, every doping case is up in the air and its a disaster for the sport. SHoudl be as exciting as the racing. Matt