"Cycling's a mafia. It's corrupt."
- Greg LeMond, 'Slaying the Badger'
Just when Alberto Contador thought it was safe to go back in the waterÃ¢â¬¦
Last Tuesday 27 September, after speculation that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) would reconsider its zero tolerance attitude towards clenbuterol, the drug that has beleaguered the Spaniard from Pinto, they decide otherwise, releasing their 2012 list of prohibited substances along with the following statement: "At present, and based on expert opinions, there is no plan to introduce a threshold level for clenbuterol."
Back in May, in my blog-post titled, 'Gun-shy 'bout Bertie' (article here), having articulated my thoughts, I asked you for your feelings on 'caso Contador' and the sport in general, which you responded in kind, and for the most part, with a considerable degree of ignominy.
The 28-year-old Alberto Contador Velasco had just won the Giro d'Italia for a second time by an astounding 6:10 over second-placed Michele Scarponi and finished 6:56 ahead of third placegetter Vincenzo Nibali. For Contador, a certain victory already came the week before, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decided to postpone the hearing of the appeal put forth by the UCI and WADA, to its now scheduled Ã¢â¬â though given its history, not altogether certain Ã¢â¬â 21-24 November hearing.
The postponement would allow Contador to ride the Tour de France; something that seemed near- impossible just one month before Ã¢â¬â hence his decision to ride the Giro. But the change in fortunes in his favour, coupled with his dominant ride in the season's opening Grand Tour, made him an odds-on favourite for La Grande Boucle.
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He continued to say the uncertainty over his future did not bother him because he knew he was innocent. But rightly or wrongly, he became anathema to most of you; overwhelming public sentiment calling for his scalp did indeed appear to affect him, because most uncharacteristically, he crashed no less than five times in the Tour's opening week.
Before the race had reached the PyrenÃ©es I knew Contador would not win.
Throughout the race, and despite some probing questions by celebrated Sunday Times journalist, Paul Kimmage, Contador never did properly address the incessant uncertainty that surrounded him ever since 24 August 2010 Ã¢â¬â the day he was notified by the UCI that he had failed a test for the muscle-building and weight loss drug, taken on the second rest day of that year's Tour.
Still, it was clear the Contador of July 2011 was not the Contador of July 2010 or the Contador of July 2009.
"I don't like to ride like this at all. This is a totally different kind of cycling to me, but for one thing or other I'm not as strong as I want to be," he said after Stage 14 to the Plateau de Beille, the final mountain leg in the PyrenÃ©es.
"Others had a calmer start to the Tour while I have had many problems," said Contador.
"Not to mention the fact that I didn't have the best build-up prior to the Tour de France."
Try as he did, the Spaniard was no better in the Alps, and on the road to Alpe d'Huez on Stage 19 he took a gamble like we've never seen before.
It didn't pay off. But the respect gained by doing so may have swayed some of those who booed him at the teams' presentation three weeks prior in the Puy du Fou arena, as well as some of you sitting at home, wondering what the hell he was doing there. It showed he was human, and even for a prodigy like himself, the Giro-Tour double was unachievable in this age of clean(er) cycling.
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Since Contador finished the Tour in fifth place overall, 3:57 behind Cadel Evans, little has been seen or heard of him.
He, along with his legal team, is probably gathering every minutia, every detritus, of evidence they can to present a watertight case with a view to complete exoneration, to prove once and for all the trace amounts of clenbuterol found in his system were the result of food contamination, as he has claimed all along.
It's worth remembering the clenbuterol discovered in Bertie's pee was 50 picograms (a picogram is one trillionth of a gram) per millilitre of urine, or 40 times less than the required limit of detection. Other samples tested before and after the second rest day test came up negative, so we still don't have a definitive explanation for how the drug appeared then disappeared so quickly.
It's also worth noting no cyclist that has tested positive for clenbuterol has ever got off. Ex-RadioShack rider, Li Fuyu, was the last to be sentenced for a clenbuterol positive, his two-year ban handed down in April 2010.
However this February, when Contador was pardoned by the Spanish Cycling Federation for any wrongdoing (a bit of a joke in itself, but I digress), German table tennis player, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, was cleared for a positive clenbuterol test by his national federation. Ovtcharov claimed he ate contaminated food; the decision was not appealed by a higher authority.
From memory, under past precedent, only one other clenbuterol case has precipitated an outcome in favour of the athlete who has claimed food contamination as their defence.
In 2008, when American swimmer, Jessica Hardy, tested positive for clenbuterol during the US Olympic trials, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) handed her a reduced one-year ban Ã¢â¬â mitigated only because she could provide the supplement she was using for analysis, and demonstrate it was indeed a case of tainted goods, rather than intentional malpractice. (WADA appealed the decision to CAS, asking for two years, but lost.)
Contador, as far as I can tell, has not been able to do what Hardy did Ã¢â¬â the cow has been slaughtered, the steaks consumed.
Boo-hoo, moo-moo, you might sayÃ¢â¬¦
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When Professor David Cowan, the man in charge of anti-doping at the London Games, said in September to the BBC, "some threshold [for clenbuterol] would give some more uniformity to the test, but pragmatically we don't want to limit the sensitivity of tests," Contador et al may have held out a skerrick of hope that WADA would listen and act accordingly.
"Having a threshold as we do for many substances is a way to get some uniformity so we don't necessarily detect just one molecule," said Cowan, who is not a member of the WADA executive committee.
Well, they didn't listen. Clenbuterol remains a zero tolerance substance in 2012.
The cruel irony is that the sheer number of tests conducted Ã¢â¬â at the Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain this year, 511, 570 and 537 tests, respectively Ã¢â¬â which is a record Ã¢â¬â and the robustness of those tests has made cycling the bastard child of all Olympic sports.
Transparency of testing does not equate with transparency of image.
And for every day caso Contador drags on, unresolved, the mindset of casual sports fans Ã¢â¬â and potential corporate sponsors such as those HTC-High Road boss Bob Stapleton failed to court Ã¢â¬â is imbued with the feeling that cycling remains as tainted as it was in the '70s, '80s and '90sÃ¢â¬¦ when in actual fact, the opposite is true.
The decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency for clenbuterol to remain a zero tolerance drug in 2012 does not bode well for Alberto Contador. And for each day the case is left open, another fan turns cynic, writes Anthony Tan.