PINTO, Spain, (AFP) — Outraged Spaniards rallied behind three-times Tour de France champion Alberto Contador on Monday, decrying his two-year doping suspension as disgraceful and unfair.
From his hometown of Pinto south of Madrid to the micro-blogging site of Twitter, indignant fans insisted there was no proof against the rider and no justification for the punishment.
The Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) slapped the 29-year-old Spaniard with a two-year, backdated suspension running through to August 6, 2012, thus stripping him of his 2010 Tour victory.
Contador tested positive for traces of banned anabolic agent clenbuterol, but he claimed it came from eating contaminated steak and was then cleared by the Spanish Cycling Federation in February 2011. The World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union appealed that decision to the CAS, which announced the penalty on Monday.
“We think the sanction is unfair. Until there is evidence to the contrary we should believe Alberto when he says his positive test was due to contaminated meat,” said Ivan Tamaral, an amateur cyclist who came to show his support for Contador outside his home in Pinto.
“In this case, there is no proof against Alberto. We need to read the sentence properly to see why they are suspending him. Maybe he should not have to prove his innocence — they should have to prove that he is guilty,” he said.
Another amateur cyclist in Pinto, wearing Contador’s Saxo Bank team shirt, agreed. “Doping has not been proven but even so they punish him: it is unjust. No one should be condemned if they have not been found guilty of anything. To me, there is something wrong here. I don’t know if they had something against him or if they wanted to make an example. Only the CAS knows.”
Spanish officials regretted the decision, too. “We should respect this decision but we do not share it obviously,” Spanish Cycling Federation president Juan Carlos Castano told public radio RNE. And moreover I think that for cycling and for Spanish sport in general it is very bad news,” he added.
Asked about a possible appeal, the national federation chief said: “If the sportsman decides to take ordinary civil proceedings it is his decision. But for us, this is over.” The official said he had been unable to contact Contador because his telephone line was apparently busy.
Fellow Spaniard and 2006 Tour de France victor Oscar Pereiro slammed the decision on his Twitter account, saying neither the ICU nor the CAS had proven his guilt.
“Two years’ suspension and in the sentence they say that the doping is not proven. What sons of … .” Pereiro wrote. “You know what I think? That he is innocent. I know him,” he added. “What is really rotten in cycling is the leaders, who become millionaires from our sweat and effort.”
Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta wrote on his Twitter account: “Chin up Contador, I am with you, too.”
Spain’s Socialist opposition leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, a former sprinter, said he respected the court’s decision “but as a sports fan, I am very saddened by this news”.
Many Contador fans on Twitter attacked the decision. “Everything they are doing to Contador is because the French cannot bear the success of Spanish sportsmen,” said one fan, AntellSE in a discussion group hash-tagged #ApoyoAlbertoContador (SupportAlbertoContador).
“I know you are innocent and I don’t need the CAS to prove it. You are and will remain my hero,” wrote another.
Praise of the ban on Twitter seemed to be rare among Spaniards, but much more common in comments written in English and French. “When are cycling gonna filter out the drug cheats? #contador is nothing short of a disgrace and an embarrassment to the sport #letour,” wrote one critic of the cyclist.