ALBERTO CONTADOR is still the winner of the 2010 Tour de France. At least he is for now. He even lined up and raced today at Portugal’s Tour of the Algarve.
Contador, you may recall, was found guilty by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) of using a banned substance called clenbuterol during the 2010 TdF. The court has now overturned its own ruling, saying, in essence, that Contador’s defense of not “knowingly” using the drug was good enough to clear his guilt.
The amount of clenbuterol found from Contador’s urine sample on the 21st of July, 2010, the second rest day of last year’s race, was 50 picograms per milliliter, or 50 parts per quadrillion. The muscle and fat burning drug could be beneficial to an athlete, but even the UCI and WADA officials have acknowledged that such trace amounts are hardly likely to be performance enhancing.
Still, both the UCI and WADA have a zero-tolerance policy for certain drugs, clenbuterol being one of them, and Fuyu Li, a Chinese cyclist, was busted for two years last spring for having positive samples of clenbuterol.
In the case of the far more dominant Contador, the UCI and WADA have 30 days to appeal the Spanish court’s ruling, and you can bet the court of public opinion will be speculating in the interim. Actually, the UCI already has weighed in, since UCI president Pat McQuaid was quoted in the BBC saying, “”It’s up to the athlete to prove that whatever product got into his system — in this case clenbuterol — got in without his knowledge. “In this case, my understanding is that Contador has not proven that, but until such time as we see the full dossier we can’t really comment on it.”
Replay the tape: McQuaid said he can’t comment on the case, while saying that Contador’s defense is facile. Hmmm.
McQuaid went on to say that the Spanish court had bowed to political pressure. If you think this means the Contador affair is far from over, you’d be right. And one reason, sagely pointed out by Joe Lindsey in yesterday’s Boulder Report, is that if the UCI/WADA let Contador walk, they look like they’re using a double standard, with more strict rules for non-household stars like Fuyu Li.
Worse, though, is that either way cycling once again is tainted by doping. And it’s true. Cycling is a mess.
But the larger picture is even uglier. Other sports apply laughably weak standards of suspension for substance/doping abuse. You get busted for steroid use in the NFL and, maybe, you’ll be benched for a few games. What would happen if a star wide receiver were booted for two years? A quarterback? The Yankees’ just-retired Andy Pettitte was lauded as such a likable guy. Like Contador, he was accused of doping—and admitted to steroid use. Unlike Contador, he wasn’t facing a possible two-year ban in the prime of his career.
If we believe in these rules so that our kids don’t dope, what does it say that a barely-on-the-radar sport like cycling has far more stringent testing policies and far greater ramifications for straying, than sports every kid grows up watching?
On a perhaps related note, Lance Armstrong has officially retired from competitive cycling. His plans are to work on the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which advocates for and funds cancer research. But he’ll probably also be working to clear his name against a special investigation of doping by the FDA.