Alberto Contador's lawyer, Andy Ramos, has admitted that he has no idea whether the UCI will challenge the verdict of the competitions committee of the Spanish federation to decide against imposing a ban on the three-time Tour de France champion. But Ramos added that if the case does go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), everyone in the Contador camp is confident that the decision reached by the Spanish federation will be upheld.
"We don't know what the UCI are likely to do," said Ramos in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews. "All we can say at the moment is that we've got an extremely solid case. Our dossier is 600 pages long and all of the scientists we've spoken to are convinced that Alberto is innocent. It's going to be a very tough case for them to take on. Of course, we're hoping that they don't."
The UCI has to announce whether it will be appealing the verdict by March 24.
Ramos confessed that one of the things that has most concerned Contador and his support/legal team in recent months has been the coverage of his case in the media outside Spain.
"We've been reading lots of the articles that have been written abroad and a lot of them don't reflect the details of the case and have not been accurate," he said.
As an example he pointed up the fact that Contador has never in fact been banned after testing positive for clenbuterol at last year's Tour de France and, consequently, it is not the case that a ban has been overturned, as has been widely reported. [Contador was provisionally suspended by the UCI in September, 2010 per the organisation's anti-doping rules, but that ended upon the Spanish federation's decision -ed.]
"The one-year sanction was a proposal for a sanction made by the examining judge. But she didn't interpret the UCI's regulations correctly, specifically regulation 296 that holds that an athlete should not be sanctioned if they bear no fault or negligence for the presence of the illegal substance in their body.
"The Spanish committee decided that section 296 should apply in this case. So it wasn't a case of overturning a ban, but of the correct procedure being followed and Alberto subsequently being cleared," said Ramos.
"One of the misinterpretations that we've often seen is that athletes are operating within a strict liability system, under which if anything is found in an athlete's system they have to be sanctioned. But that is simply not true as articles 296 and 297 of the UCI code stipulate." (See foot of story for full details on rules 296 and 297 in the UCI's anti-doping rules.)
He also referred to stories stating that Contador had tested positive for plasticisers as well as clenbuterol. "As far as the plasticisers story goes, that came from ARD in Germany first and was then picked up by The New York Times. But in the 2000-page report we got from the Spanish federation there was not one mention of the word plasticisers.
"Alberto has gone further on this issue and said that he is willing to freeze his samples so that they can be tested in future when that plasticisers test has been validated because he is so sure of his innocence."
Ramos explained that it has been the aim of Contador and his legal team throughout the case to provide the media with as much information as possible. It was with this in mind that the verdict of the Spanish federation's competitions committee was published, and that it was done so in English as well as Spanish.
"The evidence backing up the decision not to ban Contador is available for everyone to see. We have always wanted to inform people about the precise nature of the case and the facts within it," he said. "I think this is the first time that the resolution to a case has been published in this way. We wanted it to be produced in English, which Alberto paid for, because we wanted the facts of the case to be clear to everyone. We've seen things that have been misinterpreted and all we want is to make sure that people have access to accurate information."
Much was made in the press both inside and outside Spain about the public message of support that Contador received from Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as the competitions committee prepared to give its verdict. It was widely suggested that political pressure had been brought to bear, even though perhaps only indirectly. However, Ramos refuted this.
"With regard to the message of support from Prime Minister Zapatero, we're happy to receive messages of support from anyone who wants to offer them. But the key thing is to focus on the resolution and want that says, to see the scientific facts and also bear in mind the regulations laid down in the UCI's anti-doping code. It's not as if it was government policy to support Alberto," said Ramos.
"It is very clear that this is a case of food contamination. It was a huge mistake to think otherwise and we're sure that there will be huge injustices with other athletes in the future when clenbuterol is detected and they end up testing positive. You have to bear in mind that it was an extremely small amount of clenbuterol that was found in Alberto's sample. Nothing showed up on the days he was tested either before or after. That's why we were able to determine when the clenbuterol was introduced into his system and were able to establish where it came from."
Ramos continued: "When you look at this case you can't make assumptions based on one fact or allegation. You have to make judgements based on all of the facts not just one. You can't just condemn and sanction an athlete based on one fact. Alberto doesn't have anything to hide. We've published all of the documents relating to the case."
Ramos also pointed out the wider ramifications of the case, given it has been widely reported that contamination of meat with clenbuterol is common in many parts of the world and that other athletes are likely to be caught out.
"This case is not about Alberto alone but about all athletes. Three years ago the testing procedures were not as sophisticated as they are now and five years ago no one would have been able to detect such minute amounts of clenbuterol as those detected in Alberto's sample. As it is, there are only four or five labs in the world that can detect such small amounts," said Ramos.
Extract from UCI anti-doping rules
296. If the Rider establishes in an individual case that he bears No Fault or Negligence, the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be eliminated. When a Prohibited Substance or its Markers or Metabolites is detected in a Rider's Sample as referred to in article 21.1 (presence of a Prohibited Substance), the Rider must also establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his system in order to have the period of Ineligibility eliminated. In the event this article is applied and the period of Ineligibility otherwise applicable is eliminated, the anti-doping rule violation shall not be considered a violation for the limited purpose of determining the period of Ineligibility for multiple violations under articles 306 to 312.
No significant Fault or Negligence
297. If a License-Holder establishes in an individual case that he bears No Significant Fault or Negligence, then the period of Ineligibility may be reduced, but the reduced period of Ineligibility may not be less than one-half of the period of Ineligibility otherwise applicable. If the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility is a lifetime, the reduced period under this section may be no less than 8 (eight) years. When a Prohibited Substance or its Markers or Metabolites is detected in a Rider's Sample as referred to in article 21.1 (presence of Prohibited Substance), the Rider must also establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his system in order to have the period of Ineligibility reduced.
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