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PUIGPUNYENT, Spain (VN) – Bjarne Riis said he will stick by Alberto Contador during his ongoing fight against doping charges so long as evidence suggests that clenbuterol came from accidental contamination.
The Spanish cycling federation gave Contador a reduced, one-year ban from the standard two years in part because it could not prove if traces of clenbuterol entered Contador’s system accidentally or through some doping practices.
“My team will continue to support Alberto as long as the final ruling is not anything else than a case of intake by accident,” Riis said. “It is extremely important to distinguish from those who try to cheat on purpose and those who take something by accident. It is those cheaters who we want to fight.”
The Saxo Bank-Sungard team manager also said he will have to formulate a back-up strategy in the growing likelihood that Contador will not be starting the 2011 Tour de France.
“I have to plan with Contador and I have to have a plan without Contador,” Riis said. “Right now, I will keep those to myself until we have a definitive answer about Contador. The most important thing is that the team is prepared for all options. I am still hoping Alberto can race with us this year.”
Riis said the team and his corporate sponsors are backing Contador’s vows to clear his name in a legal fight that could take several more months to play out.
“Maybe we should just sit ourselves in his shoes and ask, what would you do? If you’re innocent, you might want to fight to the end. If he’s innocent, I can understand why he would want to fight,” Riis told VeloNews. “People have the right to fight for their own justice.”
Riis has little choice but to back Contador, whom he signed to a multi-million-dollar, two-year contract just weeks before Contador’s testing positive was revealed in late August.
Sources close to Riis suggested that the deal between Contador and Saxo Bank was sealed on the Tour’s second rest day, on the same evening that Contador allegedly ate his infamous steak dinner that he claims triggered his clenbuterol positive.
“I have no reason not to believe (Contador). If it shows up that it’s a totally different case, then we’ll take it as it comes,” Riis told VeloNews. “As far as I am informed right now, everything points to accidental contamination.”
Riis said the “caso Contador” further complicates what was an already challenging off-season that saw many of Riis’s top riders abandon him to join Leopard Trek, an exodus that included the Schleck brothers, Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O’Grady, Jens Voigt and Jakob Fuglsang.
“This situation is frustrating, we have to live it with for months now, so we’ve had time to think about it and confront it,” Riis continued. “Over the last couple of months, there’s been a lot of speculation and rumors written about Contador’s case, way too many in my opinion. It’s not just harmful to write about it, but to cycling in general, until this case is finished. We don’t want to take part in these speculations as we don’t have a final ruling yet.”