What’s at stake in ‘caso Contador’

A lot more than a two-year ban for Contador

Photo: AFP

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After a mind-numbing string of delays, a verdict in the long-running clenbuterol case of Alberto Contador is finally expected this week.

UPDATE: Contador ruling delayed until end of January

The three-member panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport could give its final word as soon as Monday, but there’s no indication of which way the judges will lean.

Journalists covering the Contador hearing back in November described the “bunker-like” mentality during the four-day hearing and said it was impossible to get an idea of what was going on behind the walls at the CAS courtroom.

So far, there have been no leaks in the usually loose-lipped Spanish media about what might happen in Contador’s long-awaited verdict.

A report last week by The Associated Press revealed an insider’s account of some of the most controversial testimony surrounding the November hearing. The report cited unnamed sources within WADA that attorneys almost walked out of the hearing when a key witness — blood-doping expert Michael Ashenden — was not allowed to testify.

Last week, CAS, WADA and the UCI all denied those reports and insisted that the Contador hearing was conducted according to the rules and with integrity toward a fair and balanced process.

At stake is a possible two-year ban for Contador as well as the loss of his 2010 Tour de France victory. Here are the possible scenarios:

Full ban:

If the panel rules against Contador, hands down a full, two-year ban. Contador would become the second rider in Tour history (after Floyd Landis in 2006) to have his yellow jersey taken away after testing positive for doping. Contador would also be required to pay up to 70 percent of his salary as an added fine as well as possibly lose all his results in his subsequent return to competition in February, including victories at Murcia, Catalunya and the Giro d’Italia in 2011.

Reduced ban:

One scenario is that Contador will be handed down a reduced ban, perhaps one year, and lose only his 2010 Tour crown. The idea is similar to what the Spanish cycling federation initially offered in 2011 before changing its mind in a late-hour U-turn, opening the door for Contador’s return to competition last year. This option would allow the panel to split hairs, so to speak, allowing for arguments of both sides to be taken into consideration in what would be a controversial final decision.


Contador’s lawyers, of course, are pressing for no ban at all for their client, arguing that the traces of clenbuterol entered his system via contaminated meat. If cleared, Contador would be able to start his 2012 racing schedule without interruption, with a planned season debut at the Tour de San Luís in Argentina next week.

When would a ban start?

If Contador is handed down a ban, one big question would be when a ban would start and how it would be applied. CAS has been inconsistent in its application of timing racing bans, but one scenario is that any ban would begin from the moment of the final ruling. There might be a “discount” for time served from the end of the 2010 Tour and Contador’s return to competition in February after the Spanish cycling federation cleared him. That would mean up to seven months could be taken off any ban. If that’s true, even with a full, two-year ban, Contador could return to racing midway through the 2013 season, perhaps even this year if he receives a shorter ban.

Would contador also lose the Giro?

There is also some uncertainty on how CAS would rule on the 2011 results. Both WADA and the UCI are pressing that all results from the 2010 Tour forward be removed, which would mean that not only would the 2010 Tour be awarded to Andy Schleck, but Contador’s victories in 2011 — the Murcia, Catalunya and Giro d’Italia — would also be stripped. One possibility is that only the 2010 is disqualified and Contador would be allowed to keep his 2011 results because he was cleared by the legal body, the Spanish cycling federation, to return to competition.

What happens to Saxo Bank?

If Contador goes down, Saxo Bank would be left without its most powerful rider for the grand tours. Team manager Bjarne Riis did not sign any major names during the off-season, meaning that he has all of his eggs in the Contador basket. Without Contador, Riis would be left without a GC captain for the Tour, meaning the team would have to completely change its priorities and aim for stage wins and go on the attack instead of riding for Contador and the yellow jersey.

Cycling’s credibility:

There’s a larger question of cycling’s credibility and the integrity of the anti-doping system. Many argue that the current CAS system is tipped in favor of well-funded athletes such as Contador, who have a big advantage over riders who cannot mount an expensive and high-profile defense. Another high-profile doping positive would also throw cycling back into the headlines for the wrong reasons, especially at a time when many believe that the peloton is cleaner than it’s ever been.

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