Spanish champions spring to Contador’s defence

It won’t come as too much of surprise to hear that the Spanish reaction to the news of Alberto Contador’s two-year ban was one of total indignation, with a good degree apoplexy mixed in.

Oscar Pereiro, who inherited the 2006 Tour title after Landis had been stripped of the title, complained on Twitter: “We’ve now had two Spanish riders sanctioned without the UCI nor the CAS having proved that they doped… Do you know what I think? That he is innocent, I know him! ... And what is clearer still is that what is really rotten in cycling is its administrators who become millionaires on the back of our sweat and effort.”

Another of Spain’s Tour winners, Pedro Delgado was equally forthright on Twitter, stating: “I CANNOT BELIEVE IT. The UCI, WADA and CAS are just looking to make names for themselves. They ought to go away and reconsider the fight against doping.”

Delgado felt that the fact that lesser penalties have been handed out in similar cases should have been taken into account in Contador’s case. Speaking to Spanish news agency EFE, he commented. “Being objective, if they thought that the presence of clenbuterol made a ban feasible, then they should have imposed a ban of one year and not of two… this ban is over the top and even more so when the tribunal itself admits that it hasn’t demonstrated that doping has taken place… If the case had involved a less well-known cyclist, the sanction would have been smaller.”

Another Spanish Tour winner, Miguel Induráin, who is currently at the Laureus Sports Awards Gala, commented: “Hell, I wasn’t expecting this. It’s really bad news.”

El País was quick to respond to the news of the ban. Their chief cycling writer, Carlos Arribas, looked back to 2010 when news of Contador’s positive test first emerged and recalled that Floyd Landis was at the same time talking to Australian anti-doping expert Michael Ashenden about his own positive test for testosterone at the 2006 Tour.

“I doped with EPO and blood transfusions,” Landis told Ashenden. “But the strange thing is that at no time during that Tour did I take testosterone, which was the substance that condemned me. Before the Tour I did take it, and that must surely have been how it got into my system because it was in one of the blood bags I used. It wouldn’t surprise me if Contador’s clenbuterol hadn’t followed the same path.

Arribas then went on to detail the riders who have found themselves in a similar position to Contador, having tested positive following wins or podium finishes at major tours. Landis, he points out, is the only one to have been stripped of his victory. Contador’s team manager, Bjarne Riis, is still listed on the official Tour site as the winner of the 1996 despite admitting many years later that he had doped to win that title. In fact, says Arribas, of the 17 riders who have finished on the Tour podium since 2001, seven have tested positive and only Bernhard Kohl has been stripped of his podium place after his positive test in 2008.

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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).