Former Giro d’Italia director Angelo Zomegnan labelled the decision to strip Alberto Contador of his 2011 Giro title as “nonsense.” Writing in his blog on the Gazzetta dello Sport website, Zomegnan decried the 565-day delay between Contador’s original positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France and the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s verdict on the matter, but defended Contador’s presence at the 2011 Giro, explaining that, as the rules stood, the Spaniard was eligible to compete.
“To all of those who are asking about his most recent Giro win, I reply once and for all that he arrived in Italy with a regular licence, certified by the UCI and he finished the race without anything suspect in his urine or blood: therefore, taking the Giro from him is simply a nonsense,” wrote Zomegnan, who left his position after the 2011 Giro. “But it also serves to make it understood that the rules of the game need to be changed. And quickly.”
Given that the Spanish federation had cleared Contador to compete from February 2011 onwards, Zomegnan questioned the fairness of now expunging his results from that period from the record books.
“If Contador was allowed to ride these past months after being sidelined up until his absolution by the Spanish federation, why are the titles he won without failing anti-doping tests being confiscated now?” he asked.
Nonetheless, Zomegnan acknowledged that according to current WADA guidelines, an athlete whose sample contains traces of clenbuterol is liable to be suspended, and again stressed his disappointment at the delay in arriving at a verdict. “If the sentence the right one, it’s simply arrived with a 16-month delay, obliging cycling historians to rewrite too many pages and too many judgements,” he said.
Zomegnan also voiced his belief that the Cologne laboratory was originally scanning Contador’s sample for plasticizers when it came across the traces of clenbuterol in his urine. “The laboratory was searching for something different,” he wrote. “I’m convinced that they were searching for particles of plastic, that is to say the residues from bags of blood prepared for transfusions, when… clenbuterol came under the microscope.”
Like Eddy Merckx after his infamous positive test while leading the Giro 1969, Zomegnan believes that Contador can return from this setback, even if judgement of true athletic worth remains clouded.
“The cannibal Eddy Merckx came back, and so will the Spaniard,” he said. “Meanwhile, the ordeal he has had to put up with makes him more human. Time will tell us whether he really is the best, or if post-clenbuterol, his conquests and performances will be brought down a notch or two.”
Martinelli: Contador was badly advised
Giuseppe Martinelli, Contador’s directeur sportif at Astana during that fateful 2010 Tour de France, was also critical of the delay of the CAS verdict, but wondered whether Contador was poorly-advised in his defence against the charge.
“It’s inadmissible to suspend people after almost two years, it’s penalising an athlete who up to now has been able to ride and is now not only denied that Tour, but everything he did afterwards,” Martinelli told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Ultimately, however, Martinelli felt that Contador and his legal team should have looked to accelerate the resolution of the case rather than allowing the date of the CAS hearing to be deferred on several occasions.
“I think a lot of things were done wrong by those defending Contador,” he said. “All of these overturned decisions and changes of date only penalised the boy.
“He doesn’t need doping to win, but if he made a mistake a mistake, it should have been said and admitted beforehand. He’s also shown that he can win clean, like at the Giro last year. It’s a very sad day for me, and the attitude of the Spanish federation has only done him harm too.”
Martinelli was Marco Pantani’s directeur sportif at Mercatone Uno when he failed a haematocrit test on the penultimate day of the 1999 Giro d’Italia while wearing the pink jersey. Pantani denied wrongdoing in the aftermath of his expulsion from the Giro.
Though Contador’s directeur sportif for just one season, 2010, Martinelli stressed his belief that his rider had not intentionally broken the rules. “I remain convinced that I had an absolute champion on my hands,” he said. “If he made a mistake, he did so in good faith, putting his trust in the wrong people. He was aware that he was a phenomenon and never thought of resorting to shortcuts.”
Martinelli expects Contador to return with huge motivation when his suspension expires on August 5, but also warned that the intervening period would be a trying one. “He’ll be very angry and will want to show his value to everyone, but it will be difficult to get it back fully,” Martinelli said. “He will have difficulty in doing so, because this is a deadly blow.”
Contador’s Saxo Bank teammate Jesus Hernandez, who was also part of his Astana team at the 2010 Tour, described the CAS verdict as “shameful.”
“He’s been punished without being considered culpable, the sentence makes me laugh,” Hernandez said. “I’m sad, indignant and speechless.”