PARIS, (AFP) ─ Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme said he will shake the hand of reigning champion Alberto Contador despite a controversy which has left the race in an unprecedented quandary.
However Prudhomme admitted he would prefer the world’s premier cycling event to start this Saturday without the shadow of an ongoing doping case from last year’s edition.
The joy of a third yellow jersey triumph for Contador in 2010 was tempered a month later when he announced he had tested positive for clenbuterol on the race’s second rest day.
Much to the annoyance of organizers, a final judgment by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is still pending. Contador still risks being handed a ban and would be forced to hand back all the victories he has pocketed since and including last July.
In the fallout, the Tour de France ─ which has courted plenty of controversy at various times during its past 97 editions ─ would fall unfavorably under the spotlight.
While being tied by the letter of the law as laid down by the UCI, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Prudhomme wants things to change.
“Yes, I would shake his hand ─ just as you would anybody who is awaiting a similar kind of decision,” he said.
“But the international sports bodies should reflect upon how long it takes to rule on these decisions. I can understand people being baffled by all of this. It has to change.”
He added: “Obviously we would have liked to have a final ruling before the start of the Tour.
“The CAS declared several times that the case would be resolved before the start of the Tour. Dates had even been mentioned for the hearing, from June 6 to 8.
“Contador’s representatives naturally wanted a postponement. The referees assigned by the CAS and those assigned by the UCI and the WADA accepted it too.
“That suggests the case is pretty complex. But there’s a question mark hanging over things that, naturally, we don’t want to be there.”
Contador’s claim that he ingested the banned substance while eating a contaminated steak was accepted by the Spanish authorities, but did not wash with the UCI or the WADA.
Both appealed the decision to the CAS and since the Lausanne-based sports court will not deliberate until August Contador is free to race.
The situation has met with a mixed response. Rivals have accepted, somewhat grudgingly, the Spaniard’s inclusion while the UCI has called for Contador to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.
Prudhomme says he simply has to abide by the rules.
“We have to take a neutral perspective. We’re right in the middle of proceedings,” added the Frenchman.
“He (Contador) has been cleared by his federation and there’s an ongoing appeal from the UCI and from the WADA. That’s how things stand right now.”
Contador’s main rival this year is two-time runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who finished only 39secs behind the Spaniard last year.
However his Leopard team has insisted they will be treating the Spaniard just like any other rival.
“Whether Contador is there or not, it doesn’t change anything about how competitive we want to be,” Leopard-Trek team manager Bryan Nygaard told AFP at the Tour of Switzerland last week.
“The only thing we all want in the Contador case is (for it to be) clear-cut, a good solid verdict and some kind of transparency in the decision-making and content.”