So, we now know that the UCI will appeal against the Spanish federation’s decision not to ban Alberto Contador. Moreover, UCI boss Pat McQuaid has suggested that the result of this appeal should be known by the time the Tour de France starts on July 2. This would be a great help to us all as, almost a year after the event, we would finally have confirmation on whether Contador did win the 2010 Tour de France and also whether he will be able to defend that title.
However, past history makes clear that appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport can take up to six months before a verdict is announced. And even if the CAS manages to wade through the arguments in four months, the Tour will have finished and Contador may well have won it for a fourth time, at which point he could become the first rider ever to be stripped of two Grand Tour titles at the same time - or, in fact, three if he wins this year’s Giro d’Italia as well.
Looking at the complexities of this issue, a couple of things stand out. Most obviously, the fact that the most outstanding stage race rider of the current generation is under scrutiny has created a fundamental problem for anyone organising, watching or competing in a stage race in which Contador lines up.
Effectively, we are all now watching two races within one. Contador may win the battle on the road more often than not, but if the CAS finds in the UCI’s favour, the Spaniard will be stripped of victories in not only the 2010 Tour, but also Murcia and Catalunya, plus perhaps a number of other races he’s set to ride before the verdict is announced including Flèche Wallonne, the Giro and this year’s Tour.
The other thing that stands out is that reading through that list of races it is quite easy to see Contador winning them all. He really is that good. His victory in Catalunya was his the 17th stage race success of his career, putting him just one behind Lance Armstrong’s career total of 18 - and the Spaniard is still only 28.
Among those 17 are five Grand Tour wins in just six starts, the odd one out being his debut appearance at the Tour in 2005. If the CAS finds in his favour, Contador may well go on to become the greatest stage race rider the sport has seen since Bernard Hinault and perhaps even since the incomparable Eddy Merckx.
There is good evidence that the CAS will find in Contador’s favour. Based on documents submitted to Spanish federation by his legal team and obtained by Cyclingnews, his tainted meat defence stands up according to a number of well-respected scientific experts. A quick trawl of the Spanish press also reveals extensive evidence that doping of cattle with clenbuterol in order to boost the quality of the meat does take place in Spain, despite what the breeders’ associations may have vociferously claimed. Also in Contador’s favour is the fact that the CAS has cleared a number of athletes for non-intentional ingestion of banned products, in some cases by way of tainted meat.
But whether you are convinced by Contador’s legal team or not, one issue that cannot be denied is that increasing numbers of athletes are testing positive for very small traces of clenbuterol, perhaps as a result of more sophisticated testing. If nothing else, the Contador case ought to kickstart a discussion on whether a threshold on clenbuterol needs to be introduced.
Peter Cossins is on Twitter at twitter.com/petercossins