Alberto Contador has been the world’s best cyclist for the past four years. He has won the Tour de France in his last three attempts, only missing out when his team, Astana, were refused entry to the Tour in 2008. He has taken on the best and left them in his wake.
His battles over the last two years with Andy and Frank Schleck, as well as last year’s teammate, Lance Armstrong were quite brilliant.
This year, his battle with Andy Schleck up the Col du Tourmalet, the heartbreaking Hors Categorie climb at the conclusion of the Tour’s stage 17, underlined his absolute dominance. Schleck threw everything that he had at the Spaniard and Contador absorbed it all, only allowing his friend and rival to cross the line a half bike length ahead to win the stage as a consolation prize.
That stage was after the rest day in Pau.
Today, it has come to light that Contador returned a positive result for the banned substance, clenbuterol in a sample taken on that rest day. Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator with helps in a number of ways but, most importantly for cyclists, is used to increase aerobic capacity and oxygen transportation.
In the tried and tested manner of people caught with their hands in the cookie jar, Contador has blamed mysterious other people for the result. The first explanation: contaminated food.
There have been two cases of food contaminated by clenbuterol, both in China and both pork products. It is difficult to imagine that in France, the spiritual home of gastronomy, that there would be much Chinese pork on the menu to some of the world’s finest athletes.
The second explanation put forward is that Contador’s food was spiked. Again, these athletes have such tightly controlled diets and food that is all vetted by the teams, so it seems extremely unlikely that this would be the case.
The UCI has provisionally banned Contador. They go to great lengths to point out that the result was a very low concentration, but it was confirmed by the 'B' sample.
Of course, Contador deserves the right to a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise, just as he did in the Operacion Puerto case in 2006. He was cleared in that case, but had never tested positive.
This time, innocence will be much harder to prove.
The Tour de France does not need another high profile athlete and Tour winner being stripped of his title. We had four years of listening to Floyd Landis’ carping about his innocence when the whole world, Landis excepted, apparently knew he was guilty.
Yet again, a pall is cast over one of the world’s truly iconic sporting events. Let’s hope, for the sake of the sport, that he is innocent of the accusation. History, however, tells us that it’s not likely.