Alberto Contador is set to line up in the Tour of the Algarve starting on Wednesday after the competitions committee of the Spanish cycling federation decided to overturn its decision to ban him for a year following his positive test for Clenbuterol. The Spaniard confirmed early reports, saying he had been "officially cleared by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation and has been authorized to return to competition immediately."
According to his press release, "If everything goes well, he will be at the start of Agarve tomorrow.
According to a number of Spanish newspapers, the competitions committee decided to rethink its verdict on Friday last week based on article 296 of the UCI’s regulations, which says that an athlete can be exonerated if they prove that they had inadvertently ingested a banned product through no fault or negligence on their part.
Although Contador and his legal team were unable to produce a sample of the meat that they have claimed was tainted with the clenbuterol that resulted in the positive test, the fact that it could not be shown conclusively that Contador had deliberately taken the product worked in his favour.
"First of all, I'm relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. It has been some very stressful months for me, but throughout the case, I have been totally available for all inquiries in relation to my case, and all the way through, I have spoken in accordance with the truth," said Contador. "To both the team and the authorities I have explained that I never cheated or deliberately took a banned substance."
El País is among the newspapers reporting that the four lawyers on the committee may also have been swayed by a tweet posted last Thursday night by Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero that said “there are no legal grounds for sanctioning Contador”. The newspaper adds that the committee spent the weekend mulling over their decision and were expecting to announce it officially on Monday, but were delayed by the complexity of the argument explaining their decision to absolve Contador.
It is also believed that the committee have relied on the World Anti-Doping Agency's decision not to appeal against the dismissal of similar charges against German table tennis player Dimitri Ovtcharov, who tested positive for Clenbuterol after a tournament in China.
L'Equipe reported on Tuesday that there was a procedural flaw early in the case, which violated Spanish law. A letter sent from the UCI to the Spanish federation on November 8 was not also sent to Contador and his legal representatives, the French newspaper said. This was said to be in violation of the Spanish constitution and the “rights of the accused to be informed”.
Contador now looks set to defend the Tour of the Algarve title and has also been listed on Saxo Bank’s starters for the Tour of Murcia. His first major target of the season is likely to be the Giro d’Italia title.
Contador's Saxo Bank team reacted positively to the news. "This decision is indeed proof that the relevant authorities do not find grounds for believing that Alberto Contador has committed any intentional doping offence, which is absolutely vital for us. So I'm obviously happy on behalf of Alberto and the team. We take note of this decision and fully respect it, but we're also sensitive to the fact, that the parties of this case still have the right to appeal this decision," said Saxo Bank team owner Bjarne Riis. He added that the team would continue to do its utmost in the fight against doping.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).