Between a rock and a hard place

The rumours that have been swirling around the internet are true, the Spanish Cycling Federation has handed Alberto Contador a one-year ban.  Subject to the outcome of any appeal, this means he’ll be stripped of last year’s Tour win and won’t be able to ride again competitively until 24 August 2011.

The problem for Contador is what to do next? He did say he would retire if he received any sort of ban. Was this a hollow threat? Will he really retire? I think this depends on how much money he’s already made. He comes from a very humble background and he may have already made enough money to look after his family. After all, you don’t see him flashing the cash on fast cars and flashy watches, but somehow I doubt it.

So if he’s not going to retire, should he appeal the ban? If he doesn’t, will AMA and UCI appeal the ban, feeling that 12 months is too lenient? They might do as they’ve never appeared all that convinced by the contaminated meat story. However, from a political perspective, the UCI will not want this story to drag on and obscure the 2011 season. Should they take a reasonable or outraged stance? There’s little way of knowing.

Here’s Contador’s quandary. If he doesn’t appeal but UCI/AMA do, he runs the risk that the ban might be lifted to two years. If he doesn’t appeal, then maybe neither will UCI/AMA. It’s a tricky one and I’ve no doubt that while on the Saxo Bank-Sungard training camp in Majorca he’s having his ear bent. He won’t, and doesn’t need to, do anything hasty. Alberto’s not a gambler, he’s much more calculating. He’ll take the full amount of time to consider his options, weigh up the risks and talk it through with those whose opinions he values.

Given Pat McQuaid’s initial sensitivity to this issue, I would definitely try to have an off the cuff discussion to gauge which way the wind is blowing. The best for all concerned might well be to accept the one-year ban. 

Only Alberto knows what really happened. If the contaminated meat story is true, it seems an unreasonably harsh outcome. If the contaminated meat story isn’t true and the clenbuterol, however small, got there by way of more nefarious methods, then a one-year ban isn’t a bad result. Either way, we’ll never know.

Friday postscript: In today’s press conference, Alberto claims that he will appeal the proposed ban and is prepared to fight to clear his name. Of course, the cynics may say that they’ve heard it all before and cite the case of Landis who protested his innocence before finally admitting he did indeed dope. This is a brave move on the part of Alberto who claims that he has never, ever doped. If that’s truly the case Alberto, I wish you the best of luck in your defence.

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4 thoughts on “Between a rock and a hard place

  1. Agreed. The last thing that is needed is a long, drawn-out legal battle which drags everyone through the mud. I don’t think the UCI can win any attempt to extend the ban – the Colo case is too similar a precedent. Equally, if someone dangles the prospect of racing at this year’s Vuelta in front of Alberto, he would be mad not to accept it. It would certainly be a pragmatic solution, if not necessarily the right one.

    Tomorrow’s press conference will be VERY interesting. I have no doubt
    that there will have been a lot of discussions happening in the background to ensure the best compromise is reached. The one thing that will not happen is retirement – that came across as a ham-fisted threat, and I suspect that is exactly all it was.

    For me – obviously a personal view! – I find it difficult to believe in Alberto. The (inadmissible) plasticiser test result, though not ratified by WADA, is highly suspicious, and I still have some doubts about Puerto, even though (or perhaps because of) the fact is he was rapidly exonerated by the Spanish authorities.

    As you say, though, only he will know the truth. We never will, but the media circus will damage the sport for as long as someone is willing to fan the flames.

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  2. As you say, tomorrow’s press conference is either going to be very interesting, or a damp squib. Nonetheless, like many, I’ll await its outcome.
    It’s not that I believe Contador, more that I take a more lenient view of blood doping (with one’s own blood) than the authorities.

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  3. That’s intriguing. How so? In my simplistic view of the world autologous doping is illegal so you don’t do it. In exactly the same way that I never exceed 70mph on the motorway (honest, guv).

    I’m no expert on the chemistry of it all – as a cycling fan, I really ought to be by now! – but there are clear benefits, aren’t there? Refreshed oxyegnating red blood cells, that sort of thing?

    My issue with the (alleged, potential, hypothetical, you have to be so careful these days) blood doping is more that it provides a plausible explanation for the clenbuterol – at least as credible as the contaminated steak story. Take clenbuterol to maximise muscle mass and reduce fat while training in May, let’s say, freeze some blood for later use at the same time, and then miscalculate the half-life so that there is still a trace when reintroduced into the bloodstream later. (Or, alternatively, underestimate the sensitivity of the testing lab in Cologne.)

    I so want Alberto to be innocent. Just as I want the federal investigation into Lance to fail. It’s not so much a matter of guilt or innocence- it’s more that I want this sport I love to be able to stick two fingers up at a world which wants to scapegoat it for all that is wrong in sports in general. Cycling is not clean. It never has been. It never will be. But I want the world to know that not all cycling champions are dopers, just as other sportsmen are not all clean just because their authorities have never caught anyone.

    I’m getting off my soapbox now …

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