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Contador’s ‘38,000-to-1’ Tainted Meat Theory in Sports Court

Alberto Contador’s acquittal for doping is being challenged before a tribunal today with the three-time Tour de France winner’s reputation and as much as $13.5 million in future wages on the line.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is contesting a ruling to clear Contador, who says his failed test for the banned drug clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour came after he ate a contaminated steak bought in Spain. The muscle-building stimulant is sometimes used illegally by farmers to bulk up cattle. WADA’s appeal will be heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland over the next four days.

Veterinarians in Spain dismiss Contador’s argument, citing Ministry of Agriculture data that shows there was one finding of the same category of drug in almost 38,000 tests on cattle from 2004 through 2009. Those statistics help stack the odds of success in the appeal against Contador, according to Rodrigo Garcia, a lawyer at Laffer Abogados in Madrid who has represented athletes at the same court.

“Alberto Contador has got it much tougher than WADA,” Garcia said in an interview. “He’ll have to show it’s possible he consumed the drug involuntarily -- and even then he could still be found guilty.”

Contador, 29, faces losing his latest Tour de France title and a two-year ban from cycling if WADA wins the case. That could lead to missing out on as much as 10 million euros ($13.5 million) in earnings based on a report in French newspaper L’Equipe that says he gets a salary of 5 million euros with the Saxo Bank team.

Hugo Boss Deal

Most of his earnings come from his team salary, according to his spokesman Jacinto Vidarte. A deal to supply him with clothes at public appearances was withdrawn by Hugo Boss AG when rumors of his failed test first emerged, according to Till Pohlmann, head of sports sponsorship at the Metzingen, Germany-based luxury clothier. Spanish jeweler Cristian Lay S.A is standing by its endorsement agreement with the cyclist, company spokeswoman Rosana Gordillo said.

Floyd Landis became the first Tour de France winner to be stripped of his title when he was found to have elevated levels of synthetic testosterone near the end of the 2006 race. Landis denied doping until last year when he confessed to cheating repeatedly. The American, who says he spent more than $1 million on fighting his case, gave up on a return to cycling in January after serving a two-year ban.

‘Small Concentration’

Contador tested positive for a “very small concentration” of clenbuterol on the last rest day of the 2010 Tour, according to cycling ruling body Union Cycliste Internationale, which is supporting WADA’s appeal. The Spaniard blames the reading on 3.5 kilos (7.7 pounds) of meat bought in Irun, Spain by a friend and eaten by him and teammates at the three-star Novotel hotel he was staying in Pau, France. The other four riders that ate the beef weren’t tested on the same day, Contador said.

The Spanish cycling federation cleared Contador of wrongdoing in February, breaking with Montreal-based WADA’s regulations that say athletes are responsible for what they consume, Garcia said. He finished fifth at this year’s Tour in July, his lowest finish since 2005.

The 38,000-to-one odds may not be an accurate reflection of the chances of contamination in Spain because the amount of analysis on slaughtered cattle is so small, according to Douwe de Boer, a Dutch biochemist who was hired by Contador’s lawyers to compile a report on clenbuterol last year.

“There isn’t a high risk of contamination but the risk is still there,” De Boer said by phone from Maastricht. “Maybe they are underestimating the situation.”

World Cup Soccer

WADA should change its rules on athlete liability for ingesting clenbuterol because of recent cases in other countries, De Boer said. More than half of 208 players screened at the Under-17 World Cup in June and July in Mexico tested positive for clenbuterol, according to soccer ruling body FIFA. The players were cleared amid what FIFA called “compelling” evidence of tainted meat.

WADA will call experts including Australian scientist Michael Ashenden to support a theory that the clenbuterol could come from stored blood Contador re-infused to boost stamina, El Pais newspaper reported Nov. 14. Transfusing blood, which lifts the volume of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, is banned in professional sports.

Contador denies using blood transfusions as a cyclist. WADA spokesman Terence O’Rorke declined to comment on the hearing. Ashenden also declined to comment.

Twenty-one witnesses and experts are scheduled to give evidence over four days with a ruling likely in January, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said in an e-mail response to questions. Going into the hearing, WADA is in the strongest position, according to Garcia.

“WADA has got it easy,” Garcia said. “They will argue the decision to acquit Contador wasn’t taken with complete impartiality, and was against the rules.”

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