Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme has said he wants the matter of Alberto Contador’s Clenbuterol samples settled. “The only thing which we want is to have a response. It is the most important thing. Too often we are in a grey area” he told AFP in March.
But things are now set to stay grey for some time. Yesterday we heard that Court of Arbitration for Sport has postponed the double appeal from the UCI ad WADA at the request of Alberto Contador’s defence team. Fair enough, a hearing should always go ahead when both sides are ready. But at the same time, I can’t help noticing lawyers are paid by the hour and Contador is paid monthly and the incentives to play this one for as long as possible. The “contaminated beef” hypothesis was first presented in late August after all.
Fast forward to the present and Contador hadn’t reached cruising speed in the Giro’s opening team time trial before the Italian TV commentators mentioned the pending appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It wasn’t an auspicious start for the Giro. To mention the race favourite is linked to an appeal and allegations of doping is like a magician opening his act with the words “this isn’t real and don’t watch my left hand too close“.
Similarly, when France collectively switches on its television to watch the Tour de France in July, many will have to watch TV commentators Thierry Adam and Laurent Jalabert squirm as they try to explain how a year later the official result of last summer’s race isn’t settled before the first rider sets off. I wouldn’t like to write their script.
I mean, just how do you explain it? Chronologically it’s A and B samples show up a banned substance but the quantity is small. A curious period of time passes until the story leaks. Fast forward to 2011 and Contador is cleared. Then both the UCI and WADA decide to appeal. And before you know it, it’s July and on the 14 July the race will return to Pau. Presumably Saxo Bank and Astana won’t be booked into the Novotel this time.
But from start to finish the story exposes the inadequacy of the sport. It’s got doping, officials behaving curiously, lawyers, appeals, codes, laws, politics, the Spanish food chain and more. Altogether it means two unconvincing French broadcasters have their work cut out to convince the French public to watch.
Maybe you’re thinking “I don’t care what two French TV commentators have to say” but hang on there. French TV is big, beaucoup big. Remember all the fuss over race radios this year? Well it was started thanks to TV executives in Paris demanding more exciting racing and Pat McQuaid said:
“I was convened to a meeting with the biggest producer of television images of cycling, France Television, and was told by senior executives clearly that if radios were retained in cycling and used as they were being used that the coverage of cycling on television would be reduced.”
Note McQuaid’s use of the passive voice, he “was convened“. Not “I popped over for lunch” or “I met” but he “gets convened”. As such the opinion of French TV matters. Let’s run through some scenarios TV execs might imagine:
- Contador’s presence is great: if he isn’t finding much opposition in the Giro, he shouldn’t have it so easy when he swaps Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali for Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans in July. As such the spectacle will be exciting and audiences will lap up the battle. Especially if he’s not there then maybe some would ask just how good the race is if it lacks Contador.
- Not so great: forget cycling fans, most of the TV audience for the Tour is made up of occasional viewers. They’re not going to have time for sophisticated arguments and procedural explanations. The “tous dopés” (all doped) idea is common, that every rider is at it and the presence of a banned substance doesn’t need much of an explanation. Contador’s presence will simply remind viewers of doping and dent the race’s credibility.
- It’s better without him: if Contador is on another level, a more equal contest between Evans, the Schleck brothers, Robert Gesink and others could make a more compelling race.
- Nightmare scenario: the CAS hearing is set for mid July and nobody knows if he gets to stay in the race or not. Rather than talking about racing, a significant proportion is spent agonising over whether he’ll finish the race.
ASO can exclude riders under investigation but strictly speaking Contador is cleared to race, the UCI and WADA are merely third parties wanting an appeal. Here’s UCI rule 2.2.010 bis:
The organiser may refuse permission to participate in – or exclude from – an event, a team or one of its members whose presence might be prejudicial to the image or reputation of the organiser or of the event. If the UCI and/or the team and/or one of its members does not agree with the decision taken in this way by the organizer, the dispute shall be placed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport which must hand down a ruling within an appropriate period. However, in the case of the Tour de France, the dispute shall be placed before the Chambre Arbitrale du Sport.
The Giro was not delighted to welcome Contador but race organiser Angelo Zomegnan shrugged saying he was legally entitled to participate. So for all the talk of Contador being persona non gratis in July, every other race has welcomed him. But the Tour is different and there might be greater pressure to exclude him, after all the whole story has cast a shadow over last year’s race. But if, say, Saxo Bank don’t like this it goes to the CAS for, this time, a speedy review.
The saga goes on. It’s now technically possible for Contador to win in July and then get a ban via the CAS which then strips him of both the 2010 and 2011 victories. If the matter is unsettled, I suspect ASO and French TV would rather Contador stayed away, the race could still be good without him and it avoids an awkward reminder of doping and suspicion.
But if he’s not welcome with open arms, Contador is fully entitled to ride. We’ll see what happens over the coming days and I suspect ASO and French TV will discover the limits to their prodigious power.