AIGLE, Switzerland (AFP) -The UCI said Thursday that it would appeal Spain’s decision to acquit rider Alberto Contador of doping charges stemming from last year’s Tour de France.
“The International Cycling Union today decided … to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne against the Spanish Cycling Federation’s finding in the case of Alberto Contador,” said the UCI in a statement.
“He was acquitted after testing positive for clenbuterol during an in-competition test carried out on 21st July 2010,” it added in a statement.
It was on the Tour’s second rest day that Contador tested positive for minute traces of clenbuterol, a banned drug that burns fat and builds muscle. The Saxo Bank-Sunguard rider was a member of the Astana team at the time of the violation.
He was cleared to compete however when the Spanish cycling federation last month rescinded proposals to hand down a one-year competition ban. It accepted the rider’s claim that he had eaten drug-contaminated meat and was therefore not negligent.
Spanish cycling officials said they expected the UCI to challenge their decision, but a handful of athletes with similar clenbuterol cases recently have been cleared of doping charges after making the same defense that the drug entered their systems by eating contaminated beef.
Contador has promised to fight any new challenges by the UCI or the World Anti-Doping Agency to impose a suspension.
Since the Spanish decision to clear him will remain in effect unless CAS overturns it, Contador is allowed to compete at least until a decision is rendered.
Contador was competing in the Volta a Catalunya when the decision was announced. He had moved into the overall lead at that race on Wednesday after a strong attack on the final climb of the stage. Contador’s team issued a statement soon after the UCI decision was announced.
“The rules say, that the parties of a case have the opportunity to appeal any decision to CAS. UCI has decided to do so in the case concerning Alberto Contador, and naturally we respect this. Now my hope is, that we can have a final ruling as quickly as possible,” said Saxo Bank team owner Bjarne Riis.
“I would like to remind everybody, that this is still Alberto Contador’s case. As a team we can’t do much but to wait for CAS to reach a decision,” said Riis, adding a bit of distance between the team and Contador’s alleged infraction. “But I would also like to remind everybody, that Alberto Contador was acquitted in the first place and therefore is innocent of any deliberate wrongdoing until a ruling says something else. And as long as this is a case of accidental intake of a forbidden substance, we will continue to support Alberto Contador. In our opinion it would be unfair to do anything else.”
Contador’s spokesman, Jacinto Vidarte, Thursday declined to make any immediate comment on the UCI’s decision when asked by AFP.
Following his strong performance on Wednesday’s stage at Catalunya, Contador acknowledged that it was difficult to race with the doping case still on his mind.
“These aren’t the best conditions in which to race, but I’m focusing on myself, on my bike and on the road, because I don’t have any control over the rest of it,” he said. “I try to focus on the race and for the rest I have confidence in the people around me. I won’t pretend that nothing has happened, I know that, but I’m handling things pretty well.”
Contador’s lawyer, Andy Ramos, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Thursday the rider would never have used the banned drug because he knew he would be tested as race leader at the Tour.
“Why would Alberto Contador knowingly ingest clenbuterol when he knew he was going to be tested? Alberto was in the yellow jersey, and therefore knew that he was going to be tested that day,” Ramos said. “Taking a one-time, small dose of clenbuterol is not how athletes who are seeking a competitive advantage use clenbuterol.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is following the case closely and has, in the past, generally supported the UCI’s fight against doping cheats. However, WADA has also failed to pursue other athletes who have tested positive for clenbuterol and subsequently blamed food contamination.
Earlier this year the German Table-tennis Federation acquitted Dimitrij Ovtcharov after he tested positive for the substance. Although WADA said it would appeal, it ultimately accepted his food contamination defense.
Alessandro Colo (Italian cyclist), Li Fuyu (Chinese cyclist), Lainer Bueno (Major League Baseball player) and Phillip Nielsen (Danish cyclist) were also cleared after testing positive for clenbuterol.
“We are well aware this is a delicate matter for the whole of cycling,” the UCI noted in its statement. “WADA has always been behind us. We are waiting to find out their official stance but we’ve got no reason to believe they won’t support us.”
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood and senior editor Charles Pelkey contributed to this report.