Alberto Contador's Positive Drug Test Another Eyesore for Professional Cycling

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst ISeptember 30, 2010

PINTO, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 30:  Alberto Contador grimaces his face as he answers questions from the media during his press conference pleading his innocence after being tested positive for clenbuterol, a fat-burning and muscle-building drug, during this year's Tour de France, on September 30, 2010 in Pinto, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

¡Ay Carumba!

Bart Simpson could have seen this coming from a Spanish class. Columnists around the country who did not watch one second of the Tour de France said, “Told you so.”

Three-time Yellow Jersey winner Alberto Contador tested positive for banned substance Clenbuterol during a race rest day and blamed his failed drug exam in a press conference today on contaminated meat.

Yahoo! Sports was amongst the first here to report the story.

Contador called his provisional suspension a “true mistake.” A World Anti-Doping Agency in Germany discovered a small concentration of the forbidden substance July 21. He said he learned of the result August 24.

Professional cycling has battled its contaminated image for years. This revelation might make some already queasy fans upchuck.

Even if Contador indeed proves his case, the unforgiving jury will indict him and every other rider destined for a moment of glory.

The punishment will be worse than any fine or ban the UCI could levy or enforce.

When it comes to beating a sour perception, cycling belongs in the bottom five among all sports. You don’t need to know what a bicycle looks like or how it works to condemn these shamed dopers.

Everyone is doing it—and I am not talking about the Wang Chung or the Macarena.

This dance is not one cycling officials ever wanted copied. Yet, the prevalence of positive tests for some of the sport’s highest profile riders made Xeroxes inevitable.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre is now the lone Tour champion in the last decade not implicated in a doping scandal.

Many of the runners-up have served bans or suspensions for use of performance-enhancing drugs. Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso rank high on that list of noted offenders.

Facts matter in most sports, but they mean next to nothing in this one. Mere mention of a rider’s name and “drugs” in the same sentence has become an acceptable conviction.

Instead of one gavel from a judge in a courtroom, the smack of thousands of them can be heard in succession.

The case against Contador, for those who watched the Tour, is stacked like returned books at the area library. He fended off Andy Schleck of Luxembourg in one of the greatest duels in the event’s history.

Eight seconds separated the two contenders heading into the final time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac. Their joust in the Pyrenees packed so many punches, it made Tyson vs. Holyfield look like a cat fight.

Suspicious minds will point to Contador overcoming a 31-second deficit—even if Schleck’s mechanical failure on Stage 15 opened the door for the race-changing attack—as proof of his guilt. A guillotine now awaits the world’s best biker. How sad.

Contador now combats the dreaded “cheater” tag, and Lance Armstrong should know what comes next.

As the probe into his possible use of PEDs deepens, the disdain for his supposed denigration of the system and honorable competition will also grow.

Wednesday’s news, then, was like a sledgehammer to the head for UCI chiefs. Few think them capable of organizing clean races.

This stain will not disappear, no matter how much detergent cycling supporters throw on it. This bloodied image does not fit in a washing machine.

I decided not to author a column urging readers to believe that a food-borne illness explains another positive test result. What’s the point?

Most Americans, and perhaps cycling lovers in other countries not named Spain, swore Contador did it even when they could not spell or pronounce his name.

A cyclist accused of doping? Forget that right to an attorney or trial. Lock him up and lose the key.

Armstrong, Schleck, Denis Menchov, Fabian Cancellara, Contador, and all other world-class riders can thank Floyd Landis for this sentiment.

He spent millions of dollars denying allegations he cut corners to win the Tour in 2006. He insisted for more than four years that evidence would clear his name. He demanded patience.

Then, several months ago, he opened up to cycling officials and ESPN and admitted his expensive scheme was a lie.

His shameful cover-up will taint the Tour and all of the other circuit races—the Giro d’Italia, Tour of California—for years to come. Landis as the next Jose Canseco?

That popular opinion is as much a farce as the pitiful story he concocted and sold to so many enthusiasts who viewed his remarkable comeback from 11 minutes down with jaws dropped and eyes glued open.

His check bounced.

His credibility went up in smoke faster than Snoop Dogg’s tour bus would after an engine fire.

Contador will pay for Landis’ transgressions, but Armstrong owes more.

He won the prestigious, grueling event seven times in a row, an achievement unrivaled in any other era of the sport. He served as the figurehead for a sport craving publicity and a terrific storyline.

His triumph against cancer fit the bill. The astonishing willpower he demonstrated year after year during the mountain stages enthralled millions around the globe.

He became the toast of professional sports. How many spectators flipped over to Tour coverage because of Armstrong’s celebrity?

The seven-year period in which he dominated the event was as engrossing as any in human history.

The editions in which he edged fierce competitors—the Basso and Ullrich tussles come to mind—made wearing yellow in Paris sweeter. The fairy tale nature of it all made condemnations of potential drug use harsher.

Contador, submitting a clean record for review in the wake of his positive test, will now taste the same agony.

His impressive resume includes victories at the Grand Tours in Italy and Spain. His three titles in France put the 27-year-old former Astana rider on an all-time great trajectory.

Cycling did not need this, but UCI President Pay McQuaid should be prepared by now when it comes to addressing backlash. He knows the scent of rotten assumption all too well.

And he, like Contador, should brace for the verdict, sure to come before any certification of wrongdoing does.

The minimal traces of the substance in Contador’s body will make it harder to justify stripping him of his recent title.

The amount discovered by the agency matters little in this slanted discussion. A sanction could still come.

Landis might be the latest poster child and scapegoat, but he resides in crowded company. Armstrong is almost out of legroom.

Contador will feel the cramped nature of this club soon. When he walked from the podium to a dark hallway after the conclusion of his brief press conference, he seemed headed for a jail cell more than an exit door. No one leaves this courtroom.

Cycling’s finest, already reeling from the rulings of more wannabe judges than one sport should inspire, are now chained to another defense table.

No recess. No leniency. No grace periods. No dismissals. No appeals process.

How sad. What a shame.


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