The news that Alberto Contador has been cleared by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation on charges of doping and has had his proposed one-year ban scrapped has sent shock waves through the sport. Here are a selection of opinions from within cycling’s press room.
Daniel Friebe, Procycling European Editor and Cyclingnews correspondent
My feeling is that this case (and more generally article 296 of the UCI’s regulations) sets an extremely dangerous precedent. The UCI couldn’t show conclusively that Contador had deliberately taken clenbuterol? OK, does that mean the same now applies when a rider tests positive for EPO? Does the testing or judging authority now have to produce a blood-spattered syringe as well as the electropherogram that used to suffice?
Or am I missing something here? Because if I’m not, the days of parched Tour de France riders declining the water-bottles handed to them by spectators on Alpine and Pyreneen climbs could be a thing of the past; whereas once a contaminated drink was those riders’ greatest fear, now it could be the perfect, fictitious alibi for a positive test.
If Spain wanted to reverse its image as a kind of doping Eldorado, it could frankly have done without its prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero pleading Contador’s innocence. Did Contador not have a handsomely paid Italian lawyer to do that for him? Also, on that topic, if Contador really didn’t derive any benefit from the minute quantities of clenbuterol in his system, has he at least now profitted from the kind of financial doping Arsène Wenger has maligned for years in football?
In other words, is the only real difference between Contador and someone like the American Tom Zirbel, banned for two years after accidentally ingesting the hormone DHEA, the money they were able to invest in their defence? Going forward, those are perhaps the wider issues raised by this sorry saga: having established that a performance has come with the aid of illegal drugs or methods, how can governing bodies ensure that what occurs next isn’t also financially and politically enhanced?
Jeff Jones, Editor of Bikeradar.com
The decision to clear Contador of doping charges is, on the face of it, an absolute farce. The strict liability rule in the WADA code means that it doesn't matter how a banned substance gets into an athlete's body, its presence there is enough to warrant a sanction. Otherwise what is the point of having such a rule?
There was no doubt that there was clenbuterol in Contador's sample. The amount detected was small but well within the detection limits. He didn't dispute this. He also wasn't able to prove without a doubt that he inadvertently ingested clenbuterol - and in the case of strict liability, the burden of proof lies with the athlete. Where's the steak?
This whole decision smacks of the Spanish federation not wanting to lose face in the wake of yet another of its top cyclists testing positive or otherwise being linked to doping. The UCI and/or WADA must appeal this decision to maintain any credibility in the fight against doping.
Richard Moore, journalist and author twitter.com/rbmoore73
The Contador case has seemed odd right from day one. Indeed, there has been so much about it that has seemed strange that it is almost no surprise that it appears to have reached such a bizarre resolution.
From the time delay between the test and the announcement, and the suspicion that efforts were going on behind-the-scenes by those in power to find an explanation, rather than to follow due process, to Contador’s contaminated steak explanation, to the time it then took the Spanish Federation to "sanction" him, this has been no ordinary doping case.
And the biggest concern is that this is because Contador is no ordinary athlete. It lays the UCI and the Spanish federation open to the charge that they have handled it differently on account of Contador’s fame, his standing, and the damage his conviction would do to the image of the sport.
Whether it has been "resolved" is doubtful, of course. It will drag on. But that almost doesn’t matter. The stink left by the irregularities in the way the Contador case has been handled remains, now more pungent than ever.
Peter Cossins, former editor at Procycling Magazine twitter.com/petercossins
Having followed press, public and political reaction to Alberto Contador’s ban in recent weeks, the news that the three-time Tour de France winner has effectively been cleared of doping comes as little surprise. The clamour for his absolution had been building steadily, and once the Spanish prime minister, the leader of the opposition and several other key political figures threw their weight behind Contador, it was always likely that the Spanish federation would move in his favour.
On the face of it, the decision once again sets Spanish cycling against much of the rest of the world with regard to doping. But it’s not as clear-cut as that. Spain’s three-time world champion Oscar Freire offered a wider perspective on the whole clenbuterol affair when he told AS, "According to Contador it was [the tainted meat that caused his positive test]; according to others it wasn’t. Given what is happening in cycling at the moment, I can no longer believe anyone…"
As this case grinds on – and it’s sure to be a long way from finished yet – I’m sure that Oscar’s not the only one feeling that way.
Daniel Schmalz www.nyvelocity.com
As someone who satirizes professional cycling, I appreciate the unusual and the bizarre. Vanishing twins, blood bags labelled according to pet names, Mark Cavendish talking — these are the things that make my job easy. But professional cycling is entering into a realm where the truth is becoming stranger than anything I can conjure.
It appears that Alberto Contador will be cleared of charges stemming from his positive test for clenbuterol. Contador has claimed that the positive test resulted from eating tainted beef, yet wasn't able to produced any "mystery meat" that would've exonerated him.
But this dubious explanation, the absence of a ratified plasticizers test and a missing piece of mail from the UCI seem to be enough for Royal Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC), who have overturned their decision to ban Contador for a year (a ban that was actually one year less then it should've been in the first place). Perhaps they're also responding to pressure from the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero who tweeted (yes, tweeted—like Ashton Kutcher or the S#*! my Dad Says Guy) "there are no legal grounds for sanctioning Contador".
So we have the Spanish Prime Minister tweeting in the defence of a racer using a dubious tainted meat defence and an RFEC mailing mishap to get his already shortened sentence reduced to nothing. Bravo, Spain, you've come up with a scenario so implausible that I couldn't have imagined it in my wildest fantasies. PS, good luck with the CAS.
William Fotheringham, journalist and author twitter.com/willfoth
Whatever the arguments over clenbuterol levels and contaminated steaks, the Contador ruling underlines one thing above all. National governing bodies should not be placed in a position where they have to rule on positive drug tests involving their star riders, any more than the world governing body. Between them the UCI and RFEC have taken four and a half months to arrive at… no ruling at all. As I expected from the outset, it is most likely that CAS will eventually make the decision for them.
The fact that even before explaining their decision to clear Contador the RFEC issued a statement saying they had come under no pressure to absolve him speaks volumes: clearly they felt they had better get their denial in first. The problem is simply this. If a ruling is taken by a body that has an economic interest in the outcome of doping cases, be it the UCI or a national governing body, accusations of conflict of interest can always be made.
To avoid that, the only solution is an independent panel to rule on anti-doping cases involving riders in the higher echelon of teams.
WADA may not be that body, but surely it could appoint the members.
There would, inevitably, be a cost, but it would be worth the price to avoid a repetition of the farrago of cases such as those involving Contador, [Alejandro] Valverde and company.
The Inner Ring blog http://inrng.com/
As I write, we don’t know the reasons behind the Spanish federation’s decision to acquit Alberto Contador. Last week’s leaked documents showed the RFEC was minded to impose a one year ban. My immediate question is therefore what happened over the weekend? Did Contador’s defence team find the necessary proof required under the UCI’s Rule #296?
If there’s no proof, then the hypothesis of contaminated steak is just that, a theory. I’ve never understood the certainty Contador attached to the rogue steak explanation. Surely if Clenbuterol was ingested by accident it could equally come via contaminated milk, some ham or a spiked drink?
Far from being the end of the matter, this could well go beyond cycling, the Tour de France and Spain. Because if there’s no proof where the Clenbuterol came from, then it marks a fundamental rejection of the WADA Code and its principle of "strict liability". The internationally accepted set of rules are being ignored and it’ll be interesting to see what the UCI, WADA and even the IOC do next.
This is cycling's version of the OJ Simpson verdict. Everyone expected a conviction, suddenly Contador’s in the clear. After six months of investigation there are still more questions than answers.