Alberto Contador has had his doping ban upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and will be stripped of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia titles.
The back-dated ban will expire on the 6th of August.
Contador tested positive to a small amount of the steroid clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour, which he blamed on contaminated meat.
The Spanish Cycling Federation exonerated him, in a decision which now looks highly suspect, and he raced throughout 2011, winning the Giro d’Italia in the process.
WADA and the UCI appealed the Spanish Federation’s decision to CAS, and after several delays and contradictory statements, a final decision found that Contador was indeed guilty of doping.
It’s a devastating blow for cycling fans who hoped, perhaps naively, that the sport had been substantially cleaned up by an improved testing regime and biological passports.
It’s also a huge knock on the credibility of the sport’s administrators: a decision should have been finalised before the 2011 Tour de France, which Contador rode looking like a shell of his former self.
Whether this was due to fatigue following his (now-withdrawn) victory in the Giro d’Italia, or simply being brought back to the pack by being forced to ride clean, we will never know.
Regardless, the constant delays and apparent shenanigans from the Spanish Federation will do nothing to enhance the reputation of the sport’s governing bodies. Spanish cycling has done a lot of damage to the sport since Operacion Puerto blew the doors off the biggest doping scandal since the Festina affair in 1998.
The UCI and the Spanish government must act to restore the credibility of the sport, perhaps by demanding the resignation of the heads of the Spanish federation. The decision not to ban Contador now looks like blatant self-interest from his national federation, with his ability to pull in the crowds and the euros counting for more than the integrity of cycling.
The federation will say there is reasonable doubt that he is guilty.
In hindsight there will be plenty of knockers claiming that Contador always looked dodgy, simply because he looked so damn good. He dances up the mountains like few have since Pantani, and can time trial well enough to hold his own.
This shouldn’t be enough to convict him in the court of public opinion, but it’s been a long time since someone has looked that strong without a conviction, post-retirement revelations or at least strongly-worded rumours and the odd leaked lab report. The muttering will be louder now.
The tiny amount of steroid in Contador’s blood samples will give his defenders enough to argue that his punishment is unjust, that he was in fact a victim of circumstance, or carelessness at worst. The more jaded will argue that the sport must not just be clean, but seen to be clean.
The casual fans will see the headlines about another top rider busted, and turn away with their stereotypes about professional cycling nailed down even tighter.
Sponsors will reconsider whether it’s worth the risk of brand damage by having their logo plastered over the chest of a cheat. It will become even harder to believe that it’s possible to win clean.
And Contador will be back in six months, looking for redemption like so many others before him.