LES HERBIERS, France (VN) — Bjarne Riis and Alberto Contador faced down a sometimes-skeptical media mob Thursday ahead of Saturday’s Tour de France where Contador will line up as defending champion with an asterisk.
Contador took a defiant stance when journalists queried him about his ongoing clenbuterol case and insisted on his right to race the Tour. Nerves were on edge as more than 300 journalists, photographers and TV crews attended a Thursday press conference. Paul Kimmage, an Irish journalist, asked Contador why anyone should believe him in light of the doping allegations.
“I think you’re not very well-informed. My tolerance against doping has always been zero,” Contador countered.
Another journalist asked him how he could handle the pressure of racing with the possibility of having his 2010 Tour crown stripped away if he loses an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“It’s ridiculous the idea that the victory could be taken away from me after this race,” he said. “From the beginning of the season, I’ve been the rider who’s been tested the most, and I’ve still managed to win most races I’ve started. And that will likely continue during this Tour. I am also hopeful that the (CAS) decision will go my way.”
Saxo Bank team manager Riis tried to deflate the tension before the press conference started, saying that it’s not Contador’s fault that the clenbtuerol case remains unresolved.
“Everybody would love to have had a solution a while ago, but it hasn’t happened,” Riis said. “Those are the rules and we have to accept the rules. That’s the way the
system works and we have to respect it as it is. Alberto has been cleared by the system, and he has every right to race. We will continue to support him and that’s why he is riding this Tour de France. I don’t see why he should be suspended if he has been cleared, for the simple reason that we don’t think it’s fair. That’s why he’s here.”
Contador admitted there will be additional pressure as he tries to pull off the Giro-Tour double, with most of that pressure coming from elements away from the race.
“I know there’s a lot of pressure during the Tour, both on and off the bike,” Contador said.”Without a doubt, the pressure outside the race is more than inside the race. I stay concentrated on the race and remember what the objective is.”
For Contador, he believes winning the Tour again is the best way to silence his critics.