What next for Contador?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Contador worries

Rather than filling up Twitter with a series of 140 character statements, questions and thoughts, it’s better to put everything into one post.

First, the news has just arrived that the UCI is going to take Alberto Contador and the Spanish Federation, the RFEC to the Court for Arbitration for Sport in order to appeal the verdict given by the RFEC following Contador’s non-negative test for Clenbuterol.

Why are the UCI appealing?
The UCI probably has three things to test. First is the principle of “strict liability” and the enforcement of this principle within its (and WADA’s) rules. Next there’s the weak ruling itself,the UCI President has publicly stated the Spanish Federation was under pressure from its government and that’s a breach of the UCI rules in itself plus leaked documents show the RFEC was minded to ban him for a year, only to change its mind over weekend. Third WADA will be keen for the appeal in order to lay down some case history here. The UCI and WADA are working together a lot these days and the decision to appeal will probably include WADA backing.

Perhaps even Contador will welcome the appeal?
The appeal is a good thing. Whether you are a Contador fan or not, the RFEC ruling looked weak. It did not explain enough and seemed arbitrary. Worse, statements made by its President seemed to suggest satisfaction in clearing a preferred rider. It was never a watertight ruling and it’s good that the verdict is examined. If Contador and his lawyers have a good case then they will gain from him being cleared as it will mark a second vote of confidence and one that is more independent.

Can he race?
Yes. Contador is innocent, for now. Cleared by the RFEC, he is free to race. Now there’s an appeal he remains innocent until any alternative verdict arrives and of course it is quite possible that he wins the appeal.

When do we get a verdict?
Sometime in the summer. It would be nice if there was more certainty but don’t expect anything until June at the earliest, if not July. Clearly everyone wants this saga to end but there’s due process to follow and the CAS has to be booked, there are hearings and paperwork. For a detailed look at this, see Velonation.

Will he get banned?
Obviously there’s no way to predict this. One the one hand there are rules about strict liability and a banned substance has appeared in his samples. On the other are arguments about the probable source of the Clenbuterol. The prosecution case is one of certainty, applying the rules. The defence is about the balance of probability.

If there’s no ban
The UCI goes away with its tail between its legs and a big legal bill. But at least a questionable verdict gets tested and it might lead to wider reviews of Clenbuterol use and testing.

Contador Giro

Will the Giro organisers give him the thumbs up?

If there’s a ban
It’ll shake the sport. Another winner of the Tour de France gets taken down and Andy Schleck becomes the winner. Worse, if the ban is a year then any results obtained since the date of the non-negative test last July could be stripped too. This means his yellow jersey in Catalunya right now belongs to Michele Scarponi and any results obtained in the classics, in the Ardennes, could be annulled. The same for the Giro. For me this is a big worry, I’ve covered this angle before. If it’s bad enough to see last July’s result overturned but it’d a farce to see a rider in action only for him to get ejected mid-race once the verdict falls.

Can race organisers block him?

The prospect of seeing any results overturned is a risk many race organisers don’t want. Plus there’s the whole smell of scandal and bad publicity. Yes he is innocent but if I was the Giro race organiser, I’d ask him to stay clear. That’s mean but in many walks of life someone under suspicion is often asked to step aside pending an investigation. It’s true for doctors, accountants, teachers and many others. He can continue to collect good pay and perhaps race in Spain.

Note the Tour de France has blocked riders in the past, notably Danilo di Luca and Tom Boonen, citing “the integrity of the Tour“. These bans almost went to the CAS but Boonen and Quick Step backed down, not wanting to make an enemy of ASO.

Pain in Spain?
One additional element is that if political influence is proven or suspected then the UCI constitution, under new amendments introduced last October, can allow the UCI to freeze out the Spanish federation. I don’t see this as likely but it’s another dimension to watch.

Unanswered questions
We’ll see what the appeal brings but there are still questions that need answers and the CAS won’t be ruling on this. Just why did the UCI take so long to review this case? Will the UCI set out a detailed chronology of events, meetings and discussions since the positive test? What are the UCI’s thoughts on cases like Tom Zirbel and Fuyu Li, riders who have taken full bans despite protestations? Is there anything more on the plasticisers from the lab or was this false?

Also why did Contador say he was too ill with influenza-like symptoms to ride the Spanish national championships via press release… only to actually go out for a “long day of training in the mountains“?

Karl Jackson March 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Is there any data about the success rate for CAS appeals? I don’t remember ever seeing much about it, but anecdoatlly, it seems like the UCI / National Federations do most of the winning at the CAS.

The Inner Ring March 24, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Karl: I’ve never seen this. As much as their might be a percentage rate, this time could be different from the sum total of cases:
– it’s always case by case
– Contador has a big team of legal advice
– there are more and more precedents of Clenbuterol tests being overturned

Ettore Bombino March 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Recently my wife who is fluent in the Catalan language read in the paper; ( El Paiz) that Sapnish Civil police confiscated illegal beef from the Ukraine. The report details how beef is transported via Poland to Spain to be exported to North Africa. This is not the only article we have read about illegal beef or other products being confiscated but leads me to believe that perhaps not all beef in Spain is being tested no matter where it comes from. It is a fact that Spain imports thousands of Kilos of beef from South America including Mexico. The question remains if some of that beef ended up in Irun (GIPUZKOA ) where the beef was purchased.

The Inner Ring March 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Ettore Bombino: that’s quite true. But the rules state Contador has to prove this is the case, to revisit the butcher and work back along the supply chain. If there’s a problem with illegal meat then the police can quickly discover this thanks to the extensive supply chain monitoring for beef in Europe that exists under European regulations. Otherwise a cheating athlete could take Clenbuterol and then say “sorry, I must have visited the wrong butcher”. The rules are black and white here, Contador’s case is about probable causes. There’s a lot of space between both sides.

Guadzilla March 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm

How come there is a disparity in what you write (viz, weak ruling by the Spanish federation) and what Velonews writes (viz, the arguments put forward to the Spanish Federation are quite reasonable)? What I’d like to read is the actual transcript of the argument presented by the Spanish Federation – my Spanish is too rusty now to read the original, but I had read on Velonews that there was a translation coming soon.

And do you have a reference for these leaked documents that indicate political pressure? First I’ve heard of it.

JustJoshinYa March 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Plasticizer. Can’t wait to hear how that shakes out. I hate that this will take till summer to get to and he races during this whole show, but the only thing I really care to see shake out is the whole plasticizer test….
Is it real and is this his nail in the coffin?

The Inner Ring March 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Guadzilla: the ruling is reasonable but it is outside the scope of the rules. That’s why a final ruling will help clear things up. As for the political pressure, see the quotes from the UCI President “I think it [political pressure] is unwarranted and doesn’t help. It doesn’t help the image of Spain either. It showed that they’re biased in supporting their own regardless of what the facts of the case might be” at http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/mcquaid-criticises-spain-after-contador-decision

JustJoshinYa: that’s certainly an unknown factor. It’s never been confirmed so I suspect we’re unlikely to learn any more.

bikecellar March 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm

It would have never happened in the Linda McCartney team! :)

Kieran March 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm

how does this tie in with the treatment of Philip Neilsen and Rudi Van Houts see http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/nielsen-not-sanctioned-for-clenbuterol-positive

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