Appeal or no appeal, the Spanish cycling federation’s ruling paves way for a likely title defence at La Grande Boucle, writes Anthony Tan.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

As I file this blog, it is in the wee hours of Thursday morning here in
Australia; a shade under 24 hours since the Spanish cycling federation
(RFEC) contacted Alberto Contador's legal team 4 p.m. Tuesday in Spain,
notifying them of their decision to exonerate the 2010 Tour de France
champion of any doping charges.

It has taken me till now to sift
through the voluminous stories that have circulated around the world,
and the overwhelming majority of fans appear to believe the RFEC's
decision to overturn their initial recommendation for a one-year
suspension was an injustice – legal and moral. But if you go back to the
date when the RFEC made its recommendation on 26 January, according to
Spanish news sources, they said that they accepted Contador's argument
that he unknowingly ingested clenbuterol – which made the initial push
for a one-year suspension out of kilter with their rhetoric.

So,
ignoring the pressure from the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis
Rodríguez Zapatero and the obvious desire to protect a national hero,
Tuesday's decision by the RFEC to absolve Contador of any wrongdoing is
actually consistent with their beliefs and in line with Article 296 of
the UCI's anti-doping regulations; their initial recommendation was not.

What
we should be questioning, therefore – and the UCI/WADA, should they
wish to lodge an appeal to Switzerland's Court of Arbitration for Sport
(CAS), which they must do 30 days from the RFEC's ruling – is whether
their beliefs are consistent with the evidence presented by Contador's
legal team.

Let's also remember that the evidence presented has
not yet been made public (the UCI/WADA are also yet to receive the full
case file), so until we see this – and, more importantly, till CAS sees
it, should the UCI/WADA appeal – we perhaps should refrain on
conclusively damning Contador and saying the RFEC is as corruptible as a
beggar in the Bronx.

One other observation I will make is this:
Contador is perhaps one of the most boring persons in a press conference
situation (I have not interviewed him one-on-one but I've heard he's
equally dull in that regard, too) – but when the news came out about him
testing positive for clenbuterol on 29 September last year, he was
unusually animated and vocal in his press conference the very next day –
far more than when he answered questions about his involvement with Operación
Puerto
in 2006, when his entire Astana team withdrew from that
year's Tour de France (he was later cleared of any involvement by a
Spanish high court judge). It's just an observation, but his vociferous
denial of any wrongdoing from day one to the present showed a spark that
I haven't seen in him, even more so than any of his triplet of Tour de
France wins.

Remember also that Contador has called for the UCI
to freeze his urine and blood samples until a future date when
technological advances are able to disprove his positive test for
clenbuterol – and thus verify his tainted beef theory – meaning even if
the UCI/WADA chose to appeal and CAS upholds the RFEC's decision,
anti-doping scientists still have seven-and-a-half years to bust the
Spaniard and for ASO to void his 2010 Tour win (Olympic athletes have
samples frozen for eight years) – should he be lying, that is.

I
have little doubt a validated test for both autologous blood doping and
placticizers, traces of which were reported to have been detected in his
urine in the July 21 test at last year's Tour and reported by the New York Times on October 4,
will be up and running well before the eight-year time limit expires. In
fact the director general of WADA, David Howman, told the NYT
the test for placticizers, used in the food industry for years but
recently adapted for anti-doping purposes, is imminent: "It is in the
final stages of validation," he said.

But for now, it seems, a
precedent has been set.

Hours before news of Contador's clearing
by the RFEC, a NYT article quoted Travis Tygart, CEO of the
United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), who said exoneration of
athletes using food contamination as an excuse is rare. So rare, in
fact, I can't recall it happening before. "It's a very, very unique set
of facts that would justify someone being completely cleared, so unique
that we haven't seen it at all, at least here in the United States,"
said Tygart. "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."

Therefore, until
we hear more, we must assume Contador's legal team proved he was not at
fault for ingesting the contaminated beef, but they also proved its
origin; down to the butcher or all the way to the slain cow, I'm not
sure.

Going forward, I don't believe the UCI or national cycling
federations should be dealing with the policing of doping cases. As
cycling author William Fotheringham so rightly pointed out on Cyclingnews
there is simply too much vested interest in national federations making
such judgements, especially when it comes to high-profile athletes –
and especially in a country like Spain which deals with a
disproportionate volume of doping infractions. If the CAS can handle it –
and if not, the 18 ProTeams should have to donate a portion of its
monies to enable CAS to handle all cases involving cyclists – all doping
cases should be dealt by the Lausanne-based court, in my opinion.

Some
Spanish outlets have already reported we can expect to see Contador at
this year's Giro, which begins in Turin on 7 May. Does that mean we can
expect to see AC at the Tour, also? If ASO invite him and his Saxo Bank
team, the answer is yes.

The UCI's spokesperson, Enrico Carpani,
told the NYT that even if the UCI/WADA were to appeal, the
process from lodgement of the appeal to final verdict by CAS typically
takes four months (taking us to the end of June); and in a case with so
much riding on it, longer still, I would surmise.

The 98th Tour
de France starts on 2 July. And the clock is ticking.