Defiant Contador comes out fighting
With the same icy-eyed stare that has brought him three Tour de France titles, Alberto Contador yesterday stated that it "would be completely ridiculous" if the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) stripped him of his crown next month over a failed drugs test after last year's success.
The 28-year-old Spaniard insisted that he believes in 'zero tolerance' over doping, claiming that that the traces of clenbuterol found in his system had come from a contaminated steak he had eaten.
Bjarne Riis, the manager of Contador's Saxo Bank-Sungard team, then raised eyebrows by suggesting that it was the system that had let everyone down and that Contador was a victim.
"We don't see why Alberto should be punished or suspended from racing when he is clean," said Riis, who admitted to doping himself years after winning the 1996 tour as a rider.
The 98th tour gets under way tomorrow in the Vendée region of western France with a 191.5km road stage starting across a causeway, Passage du Gois La Barre-de-Monts.
However, the Saxo Bank hierarchy were fighting a losing battle to persuade many that Contador should be entitled to race, although he is legally clear to do so.
Contador's positive was revealed a couple of months after the event and he faced a possible two-year ban. He was provisionally suspended by his national federation, only for them to lift their suspension early in the year.
The international cycling union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency appealed against that stance and the matter was referred to CAS. The case was due to be heard in June, but has been deferred.
So, Contador rides in the knowledge that if things go badly, he could lose last year's title as well as this year's, were he to win.
It is a messy state of affairs, one that has already tarnished what ought to be a classic tour.
"If they can take victory after I maybe (win) the Tour de France, it's completely ridiculous," Contador told a packed press conference in Les Herbiers, near to where the opening stage finishes at Mont des Alouettes.
"From the beginning of this season, I am the most controlled (tested) rider and I'm winning almost every race. It'll be the same in the tour. But I'm confident in the resolution (of the hearing) after the Tour."
Contador was booed by spectators at the official presentation of teams.
Riis, meanwhile, appealed for understanding. "Alberto has all the rights to ride," he said of the man who will start as favourite alongside the rider he has beaten into second place for the last two years, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck.
"If you don't agree with this solution, then you should question the system, not us, for we're following the rules. We try to do things that are correct and fair." (© Daily Telegraph, London)