Contador cleared of charges. In Spain, sentiment beats science
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.