Alberto Contador’s eight teammates on the Saxo Bank-Sungard squad couldn’t lead him to victory at this month’s Tour de France. Now it’s up to a smaller crew of attorneys to try to save his 2010 title.
The World Anti-Doping Agency and cycling’s ruling body, the International Cycling Union or UCI, are appealing the three-time champion’s acquittal for doping in a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland. The hearing, scheduled for Aug. 1, will be postponed until November to allow more time for written evidence, CAS said today in an e-mail.
The Spanish cycling federation accepted the 28-year-old’s defense that he had the banned stimulant, clenbuterol, in his body because of eating contaminated beef. While the Contador ruling may be overturned after the three-day hearing, according to some lawyers, others say sports’ top tribunal is getting more lenient in cases where athletes argue that their food was contaminated.
“A positive doping test used to be a death sentence,” Rodrigo Garcia, a lawyer at Laffer Abogados in Madrid who has represented cyclists in doping cases, said in a telephone interview. “There are signs that is changing and the Contador case could be a turning point.”
Contador finished the Tour de France in fifth place two days ago, 3 minutes, 57 seconds behind Cadel Evans, the first Australian winner in the race’s 108-year history. Dani Navarro and other so-called domestiques on the Saxo Bank-Sungard team sacrificed to lead Contador up mountains last week, although after one stage to the Col du Galibier on July 21 the Spaniard said “his legs didn’t respond.”
Contador won’t ride in the Spanish Vuelta this year, the Associated Press reported today. CAS today postponed the hearing, which will probably be rescheduled for November.
“The second round of written submissions will allow the parties to complete their evidence and arguments relating to some specific scientific issues,” CAS said in an e-mailed statement.
Andy Ramos, a lawyer at Bardaji & Honrado in Madrid, is coordinating Contador’s defense and said last October he was working with “four or five” attorneys including Jean-Louis Dupont, a Belgian who won a landmark case in 1995. That judgment, dubbed the Bosman ruling after player Jean-Marc Bosman, allowed soccer players in the European Union to leave on free transfers once their contracts expired.
Ramos declined to comment when reached last week and Dupont didn’t return an e-mail.
Under WADA’s code, athletes are liable if a banned drug is found in their system, and it’s up to them to prove they didn’t illegally ingest the substance. Recent rulings show the Swiss court is putting more pressure on WADA and sports federations to provide proof of wrongdoing, according to Garcia.
Last week, it backed a ruling not to punish Olympic champion swimmer Cesar Cielo and two Brazilian compatriots, who blamed contaminated food supplements for testing positive for the diuretic furosemide in May. A fourth Brazilian, who had a previous violation, was suspended. In 2009, the court cleared French tennis player Richard Gasquet of doping after he argued that he tested positive for cocaine because he kissed a woman who’d taken the drug.
Contador says his failed test was caused by a cut of beef brought by a friend on the last rest day of the 2010 Tour de France and that the amount of clenbuterol found in his body was too small to boost performance. The reading was 50 picograms per milliliter of clenbuterol. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram. Farmers sometimes use the stimulant to bulk up cattle.
The Spanish federation “completely caved in to the pressure of its leading athlete” when acquitting Contador, Mike Townley, head of sports at law firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite LLP in London said. Juan Carlos Castano, federation president, said in an interview in late June he stood by the decision, although added future cases should be reviewed by international authorities to speed up the process and avoid “accusations of favoritism.”
Should Contador be absolved on a technicality or because of his profile, it would “undermine a decade’s worth of work by WADA in trying to bring about a system that can’t be beaten by drug cheats,” Townley said.
WADA spokesman Terence O’Rorke declined to comment on the case or its implications.
If Contador loses his title, it could go to Andy Schleck, the 26-year-old Luxembourg rider who’s been runner-up the last three times. He lost the 2010 Tour by 39 seconds to Contador and this year took the lead on July 22 on the final mountain climb to Alpe d’Huez, only to lose it a day later to Evans in the time trial.
Oscar Pereiro of Spain inherited the 2006 Tour title after Floyd Landis failed a drug test. Landis blamed whiskey, among other reasons, as a possible explanation for having synthetic testosterone in his body. Last year, the American admitted doping.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport is unlikely to be guided by the recent judgments in swimming and tennis when it considers Contador, according to Patrick Russell, a senior partner at Charles Russell LLP, who’s advised the British Horseracing Authority on doping.
“These things are very fact specific,” Russell said, adding that the case won’t change the current rules on athlete liability if Contador’s lawyers are successful in defending him.
Like the riders who couldn’t lead Contador to victory over the 2,132-mile Tour, there’s little chance of his lawyers being successful, according to Townley. He said he’s prepared to wager money on that outcome.
“I will be amazed,” Townley said. “I will call you up and send you 10 pounds if CAS don’t find him guilty.”