Contador escapes doping ban, set to keep Tour win

MADRID (AP) - Alberto Contador was cleared of doping Tuesday after Spanish cycling authorities reversed their proposal to ban him for one year. The federation ruled he was not at fault for a positive test at the Tour de France that Contador blamed on contaminated meat.

Contador will keep his third Tour title and can ride in this year's race, but the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency can appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Contador tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol during last year's Tour.

"Today is a day of justice, with mixed feelings between joy and sadness for all the damage in recent months. Leaves a mark!" Contador wrote on Twitter. "Thank you all because you are the ones who encouraged me."

The ruling came three weeks after the Spanish federation recommended a reduced one-year suspension rather than the standard two-year penalty. Contador's team then pushed for him to be cleared and face no punishment.

"I'm relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. It has been some very stressful months for me, but throughout the case I have been totally available for all inquiries in relation to my case, and all the way through I have spoken in accordance with the truth," Contador said in an earlier statement. "To both the team and the authorities I have explained that I never cheated or deliberately took a banned substance."

Disciplinary committee president Fernando Uruburu said the new evidence brought forward by Contador's defense team made the difference.

"We evaluated all of the information, including previous CAS decisions and judgments made by other national federations as much as the allegations brought forward by the cyclist himself," Uruburu said.

The UCI said it was waiting to receive the full dossier and would issue a decision on whether it would appeal within 30 days. WADA also plans to review the dossier.

"The UCI reserves the right to conduct an in-depth study of the reasons behind the decision before expressing its opinion," the cycling body said while noting discrepancies in the initial proposal of a one-year ban and Tuesday's final verdict.

Contador is cleared to race pending any appeal rulings from CAS. The UCI has one month to appeal the federation's decision, while WADA has another 21 days after that. Any appeals process is expected to last until at least June, with the Tour beginning July 2.

The Tour of Algarve confirmed Contador would race for his new team in the five-stage race through southern Portugal, which begins Wednesday. Contador is the two-time defending champion.

"If everything goes well, the rider will take the start, tomorrow, at the Tour of the Algarve," Contador spokesman Jacinto Vidarte said.

Contador - one of only five cyclists to win the Tour, Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta - also won Tour titles in 2007 and 2009. He was unable to defend his first title in 2008 after his Astana team was banned for doping.

After learning of the proposed one-year suspension nearly three weeks ago, Contador vowed to fight any ban, calling himself a victim of antiquated and flawed doping regulations.

"It's a question of honor, defending your pride and your innocence," the 28-year-old Spaniard said at the time.

Contador presented further evidence based along UCI and WADA rules that allow the "elimination" of a sanction if the athlete can demonstrate "no fault or negligence." A minute trace of clenbuterol was discovered in his test.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero added extra pressure on the committee last week by saying "there's no legal reason to justify sanctioning Contador."

The disciplinary committee strongly rejected "the many statements made by various arms of public life within this country" over the Contador case.

"They managed to create doubt in the independence and objectivity of this committee," the body said in a statement. "The resolution was the result of independent and deep legal analysis - to reduce the activity of this committee to a mere transcriber of the views of certain media outlets and politicians is simply unacceptable and false."

Saxo Bank-Sunguard owner Bjarne Riis called the decision "absolutely vital."

"This decision is indeed proof that the relevant authorities do not find grounds for believing that Alberto Contador has committed any intentional doping offense," Riis said. "We take note of this decision and fully respect it, but we're also sensitive to the fact, that the parties of this case still have the right to appeal this decision."

Contador says he ate meat contaminated with clenbuterol on a rest day during the tour in July. He avoided becoming only the second cyclist to lose his Tour title after Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour victory after a positive test.

His case highlights a growing concern that clenbuterol can be consumed unwittingly by eating meat from animals who were fed the drug, which helps burn fat and build muscle. It is on WADA's zero-tolerance list.

In a separate case, WADA chose not to appeal to CAS after the German table tennis federation decided not to ban Dimitrij Ovtcharov, who tested positive for a minute trace of clenbuterol from meat eaten in China.

A study released Tuesday by the doping laboratory that discovered clenbuterol in Contador's sample showed that humans can inadvertently ingest the drug from eating meat. The German Sports University lab in Cologne is accredited by WADA.


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