It has been more than a year since the world learned that the winner of the 2010 Tour de France might lose his title to a positive doping test, but Alberto Contador is confident that his attorneys will put forth a winning argument in the arbitration hearing come November 22.
WADA has said it would seek a full two-year ban on the rider for his clenbuterol positive, while the UCI will look to have him stripped of his Tour title, but Contador is already planning his 2012 season in anticipation of the appeals being overturned.
"I'm very confident because of all of the controls and the scientific facts supporting my case," Contador said during a brief visit to the San Francisco Bay area. "I believe there will be a favourable resolution."
In February, the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) cleared Contador to compete after it accepted arguments that clenbuterol, which first appeared in Contador's doping controls during the second rest day of the 2010 Tour de France, was the result of contaminated beef, and he was not at fault for the substance being in his body.
The UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency have lodged separate appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the hearings for which were originally scheduled for June, but were delayed on request of Contador's defense team until late this autumn.
Contador was found positive for a minute quantity of the drug, which is thought to increase aerobic capacity as well aid in fat loss. However, the lab which found the clenbuterol in his sample was using ultra-sensitive machines able to sniff out levels of the drug which would normally go undetected.
The inconsistency of the testing from lab to lab has led to speculation that WADA would impose a lower limit for declaring a sample positive.
However, the agency released its 2012 prohibited list without altering the 'no tolerance' rule on the drug.
Contador said that he thought his case would force WADA to make changes. "I don't think [the 2012 prohibited list] will affect my case, but I strongly believe there will be a change in the limit for clenbuterol. Probably right after my case is resolved."
Other changes that may come too late to help Contador is the creation of an independent tribunal for handling doping cases, which would take away the decision power from the national federations on recommending action in doping cases.
The Spaniard thinks the change could be a good one, but only "if there is a high level of objectivity".
"It could be faster, everything could be under more control. There's still a need of an external organisation so that everything is done in an appropriate way," he said.
A season of waiting
Contador, originally facing a recommended one-year ban by the Spanish federation's competition committee, escaped his suspension by the somewhat surprising final decision by the RFEC. When cleared to compete, he immediately set to work, taking fourth overall at the Volta ao Algarve and winning the Vuelta Murcia and Volta a Catalunya before learning of the UCI and WADA appeals at the end of March.
With the date originally set for June, it seemed that Contador had decided to seek a second Giro d'Italia title in case he wouldn't be allowed back to the Tour de France. His bid was successful and he won his second Giro d'Italia, but went into the Tour de France drained from the effort and facing harsh criticism from the fans who did not regard him as the defending champion.
In hindsight, the postponement to November resulted in the hearing never impacting his season, but Contador said the Giro d'Italia was in his goals all along.
"I'm happy with what I achieved at the Giro. My intent was to use the Giro to prepare for the Tour, but when I got there I realized it was much tougher than I expected. It was difficult not to compete," he said, adding that a Giro-Tour double could still be possible if the courses were just right.
What US fans will not soon see is Alberto Contador racing on American soil. "I'd love to come and race the Tour of California if it was in February, but since the date change it has overlapped with the Giro d'Italia.
"If I were to come to California, I wouldn't come to train, I would come to win. But its place in the calendar means that racing here in May would impact my chances for the Tour de France."