Contador to be stripped of Tour de France title

Jan 28, 2011
Bill Mann

The Spanish cyclist faces a one-year ban over drugs test result, which he blamed on ‘contaminated meat’

The Tour de France has been plunged, once again, into controversy after it was revealed that the 2010 winner, Spaniard Alberto Contador, is to be stripped of the title and faces a one-year ban from the sport after testing positive for a banned substance.

Contador is scheduled to give a press conference on Friday afternoon in reaction to the news that he will be banned for a year after testing positive for clenbuterol during last year's Tour. The ban imposed on Contador by the Spanish Cycling Federation has yet to be ratified – that will happen early next month – but it means that the Spaniard will be stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title.  Andy Schleck of Luxembourg will, as a result, be named the new champion of the world's most prestigious cycling race.

Contador is currently in Majorca training with his Saxo Bank-SunGard team but his spokesman, Jacinto Vidarte, maintained his client had inadvertently digested small traces of the weight-loss drug when he ate a contaminated steak during the race last July. "He is upset because he is innocent and he feels he is being unjustly punished," said Vidarte.

The 28-year-old Contador, who was suspended by the International Cycling Union (UCI) when the traces of the drug were initially found in his urine last August, is expected to announce at the press conference that he intends to appeal any ban. There is an outside chance that he will accept the findings of the Spanish Cycling Federation and recognise that the punishment could have been stiffer. The usual sanction for a first-time drug offence is a two-year suspension which, says the Spanish media, would have cost Contador some 3m euros in lost earnings, so by accepting a one-year ban (backdated to August 2010) he would only miss most of the 2011 season.

The UCI are reported to have wanted a two-year ban imposed and so there remains the possibility that they, or the World Anti-Doping Agency, could challenge the punishment in the hope of having it increased. The decision of the Spanish Cycling Federation in attempting to reach some sort of compromise with their fallen star has left some people mystified. Speaking to the New York Times, lawyer Howard Jacobs, a specialist in sport drugs cases, said: “If his [Contador's] defence was strictly that it must have been contaminated meat, then I would think they must have accepted that reasoning in order to reduce the penalty. But if they accepted that it was contaminated meat, I don't see why they gave him a penalty at all. It's difficult to say how they came to their decision. Maybe there was some element of the defence that wasn't made public.”

Regardless of whether Contador is banned for one or two years, however, the result is another devastating blow to the image of cycling and the beleaguered organisers of the Tour de France. The 2006 winner, American Floyd Landis, was stripped of his title when he taken synthetic testosterone and in recent weeks there have been more unsavoury allegations surrounding seven-times Tour winner Lance Armstrong. "We would rather only talk about winning races," said Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme in response to the Contador's likely ban. "But I feel assured that the fight against doping is not merely cosmetic and whether a rider is powerful or insignificant, they will pay for any misdeed."

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