The fallout from Contador verdict
I am rubbish at jokes but I heard a good one today.
What links a beautiful town in France, an abattoir in Spain, a legal bill that would bankrupt most developed nations and Luxembourg's greatest sporting triumph?
Come on, you must know this one: it's been running for 566 days.
Actually, now that I think about it, this joke is not very funny.
Contador was found guilty of doping after testing positive for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France but he says the failed test was a result of eating contaminated meat. Photo: Getty
It is a farce, all right. But nobody appears to be laughing, least of all the two main beneficiaries of Alberto Contador’s fall from cycling superstar to biking bad boy . . . a well-worn slide, you could argue, but few have fallen this far and this hard!
But before I get to how Andy Schleck and Michele Scarponi reacted to Monday’s announcement from the Court of Arbitration for Sport that they are the winners of the 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia respectively, we should rewind to the events of 21 July 2010.
Picture the scene: Contador and his Astana team-mates are getting some well-earned R&R in Pau, the aforementioned nice spot near the Pyrenees.
It is a day off, their first for a week, since which time Contador has taken control of the 97th edition of cycling’s most prestigious and toughest race.
They are now just four days and 300 miles from riding to victory in Paris - Contador’s third win in four years.
So when the Spaniard decided he wanted a choice slice of beef for his dinner, who was going to say he did not deserve it?
Eat up, Alberto, you will need your strength if you are going to maintain your skinny margin over that mountain goat, Schleck.
That much we know. We also know the name of the butcher, the slaughterhouse and even who bought it.
All that is missing is the identity of the cow, which is a huge shame for Contador as that cow has some explaining to do.
Could he/she explain how the asthma drug clenbuterol got into its system?
Could that animal offer an explanation as to what a banned performance-enhancing substance, popular amongst bodybuilders, was doing in its muscle tissue?
No, of course not. But neither could Contador and that is why he is now staring at the ruins of a glittering career.
Having waded through the Lausanne-based court’s 98-page judgement, I was struck by two surprising thoughts.
First, I feel sorry for the lawyers who worked on this case. They had 4,000 pages of evidence to get through.
Second, after all this time and all those arguments, nobody really knows why there was a minuscule amount of clenbuterol in Contador’s urine that day.
The rider says it was the meat what did it.
Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and the World Anti-Doping Agency say it was the rider, but cannot quite prove how he did it.
The bad news for Bertie, however, is they do not need to prove any of that. They just need to show it was there and then shoot down any suggestion that the cow in question could have been the only animal in western Europe trying to take short cuts for the perfect body.
So, while Contador’s camp could point to the recent cases of tainted meat at football’s Under-17 World Cup in Mexico and tales of farmers doping their animals in China, the UCI and Wada could counter with evidence that, of 24,000 animals tested recently in the European Union, only one showed up with clenbuterol.
Their explanation for the positive was far more plausible, they said.
He either had an illegal blood transfusion the day before the test – and that transfusion got contaminated – or he took a tainted food supplement.
Those two claims ignited enough legal argument to power Switzerland for a few weeks when Contador’s day in court finally came around last November and his hotshot legal team was successful in dismissing the transfusion idea (an aced lie-detector test could only have helped).
But they could not knock enough holes in the suspect supplement theory and this, on the balance of probability, is the explanation that the three-man CAS panel liked best.
Which supplement this was and where had he got it from? Not important.
Under sport’s strict liability rules on doping, Contador had to come up with something more likely than his opponents’ theories and the sirloin was not that.
Some 18 months after the little man with the big lungs crossed the finish line, his sport has a new hero, the mild-mannered Schleck.
Not that he is jumping up and down about it: just the opposite.
For him, this is no way to win and he has made it clear that he believes his great rival’s story and will not consider himself to be a champion until he climbs the top step in Paris himself.
Noble sentiments but there are many fans who think he should have won in 2010 anyway, as Contador’s margin of victory was exactly the same amount of time that he took out of Schleck when the Luxembourger’s chain slipped off in the mountains, thus breaking one of cycling’s unwritten rules of fair play.
Scarponi, the Italian who finished a distant second at the 2011 Giro, echoed Schleck’s reluctant acceptance speech, and cycling’s greatest champion, Eddy Merckx, went even further, saying he was “disgusted” with the decision.
Far less surprising, perhaps, is the almost universal support the 29-year-old has received at home.
After all, it was last January’s decision by the Spanish Cycling Federation, under huge political pressure, to exonerate the rider that prompted the UCI and Wada to demand a stiffer penalty.
There is some irony, however, in the words of support from Oscar Pereiro, who won the 2006 Tour de France when American cyclist Floyd Landis was stripped of his victory for also failing a drug test.
Justice was served much quicker that time, but cycling’s critics will say it did not do much good in terms of lessons learned, did it?
My view, if I am allowed to have one, is that cycling is a cleaner sport now than it has been for a very long time. Perhaps ever.
Cycling should also be congratulated for policing itself far more aggressively than most.
But there is no getting away from the fact that this is bad news for a sport that has only just started to recover from a particularly grim decade.
It will also fuel the conspiracy theorists who contrast Contador’s treatment with the recent announcement from the US federal government that it will not be pursuing its investigation into Lance Armstrong, Contador’s predecessor as cycling’s best rider.
For them, Contador does not sell enough bikes and is therefore expendable. Armstrong, on the other hand, is a one-man industry.
There is no answer to those claims, not one that will convince the anti-Armstrong lobby anyway. But that is cycling’s biggest problem.
It is far too vulnerable to these eternal debates and easy cynicism. And it will remain so for as long as its champions fail to adequately explain the unusual drugs testers find in their bodies.As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/mattslaterbbc