Three-times Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, pictured leaving his Pinto (Madrid) home on Monday, has been banned from racing for two years and stripped of his most recent title after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) found him guilty of a doping offense at the 2010 event. Contador's ban is effective from August 5, 2010, when he was provisionally suspended after being informed of the positive test, leaving him free to return to competition on August 5, 2012.
As well as losing his 2010 Tour de France win, which will now be handed to Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, Contador will also forfeit his 2011 Giro d'Italia triumph, which goes to Michele Scarponi.
The CAS' decision brings to a close one of the most controversial doping cases in cycling history. Contador, one of only five racers to have won the sport's three major titles - the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta a España - has always maintained the traces of clenbuterol, a banned steroid used illegally to fatten livestock, entered his bloodstream via contaminated meat bought from a butcher in the Basque Country. Doping authorities, though, suspected the traces of clenbuterol were residual and the result of out-of-competition blood transfusions. The Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) accepted Contador's version of events and in February 2011 cleared him and lifted his suspension.
The International Cycling Union (ICU) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appealed the case to the CAS, cuing an investigation worthy of a spy novel as the Basque butcher, European farming practice experts, scientists and witnesses were called for the prosecution and defense. The world governing bodies accused then-Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of influencing the RFEC's decision to absolve Contador as he expressed his support for the cyclist publicly on a social network.
After a series of delays, the trial was finally set for late November last year, with Contador, unusually in such cases, in attendance with a huge defense team. A three-man panel was selected to adjudicate at the Lausanne-based CAS, consisting of Israeli Efraim Barak, Quentin Byrne-Sutton of Switzerland and German Ulrich Haas. This, too, led to some controversy as Barak's impartiality was called into question by WADA lawyers.
A week before the proceedings began, Barak had been invited to speak at an anti-doping conference in Madrid organized by the Higher Council for Sports at which Contador's lawyer, Gorka Villar, the son of the Spanish Football Federation president, was also present. Around the same time, Contador's Saxo Bank team was engaged in a goodwill visit to Israel.However, on Monday the CAS returned its verdict, which effectively rules Contador out of this year's Tour de France and the London Olympics.
"The panel found there were no established facts that would elevate the possibility of meat contamination to an event that could have occurred on a balance of probabilities. Unlike certain other countries, notably outside Europe, Spain is not known to have a contamination problem with clenbuterol in meat.
Furthermore, no other cases of athletes having tested positive to clenbuterol allegedly in the consumption of Spanish meat are known," the CAS said in a statement.
"The panel concluded that both the meat contamination scenario and the blood transfusion scenario were, in theory, possible explanations for the adverse analytical findings but were, however, equally unlikely. In the panel's opinion, on the basis of the evidence adduced, the presence of clenbuterol was more likely caused by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement."
"This is a sad day for our sport," said ICU president Pat McQuaid, who has been accused of a witch hunt against Spanish cyclists in some corners. "Some may think of it as a victory, but that is not at all the case. There are no winners when it comes to the issue of doping: every case, irrespective of its characteristics, is always a case too many.""It is very bad news for Spanish sport," said RFEC president Juan Carlos Castaño. "For us, this journey has ended."