The New Reality - Races are won on the roads and in the court rooms
Alberto Contador's results are tossed out and once again cycling history needs to be rewritten.
This weekend was full of surprises. First off, out of the blue, the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong came to a halt. This caught everyone off guard as there had been no warning signs that this was about to happen. In fact it had been rumored that March was when the Feds were going to start handing our subpoenas like feed zone musettes.
For those conspiracy tin foil hat-wearing folks the fix was in. Over the years Armstrong has built up plenty of support from people in high places. As the blog NYVelocity pointed out, the seven-time Tour de France winner recently donated $100,000 to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer's charity of choice, Planned Parenthood. In the past she championed U.S. Attorney André Birotte who was the one that pulled the plug on the Armstrong investigation.
And then there's the timing of the press releases - late Friday of the Super Bowl weekend. That guaranteed that the story would be pushed to the back of the sports page.
I'll save you from the additional details as by this time I'm sure you have been inundated by every cycling news source chiming in with their opinion (including me on my personal blog). However, the Armstrong case was just the first course of this doping banquet.
We had been promised this for weeks. No - years - the Alberto Contador clenbuterol case was finally going to be ruled on. After many false starts and delays the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) promised they would announce their ruling on Monday, noon time in Europe. And lo and behold - after 566 days there was finally a ruling - Contador's 2010 Tour de France champion title was to be stripped from him as well as any results from that date, which includes his victory at the Giro d'Italia. Additionally he has been benched until August of this year.
The fall out for Contador's team could be disastrous. As Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson points out Pistolero counts for 68% of the team's UCI WorldTour points. In theory this could drop Saxo Bank out of the ProTour system and leave them scrambling for wild card invites. And who could benefit from Saxo getting the boot? The Dutch Project 1t4i squad. Tomorrow Team Saxo Bank is going to hold a press conference, but I'm not holding my breath that they will state anything more than what we know now.
Quoting from the Saxo Bank team's press release, "CAS's conclusion is that the most likely cause for the adverse analytical finding is ingestion of a contaminated food supplement." Let's take a deeper look at part of this sentence.
"Likely cause for the analytical finding is ingestion of a contaminated food supplement." Saxo is already softening the blow by being selective of what CAS actually said. They forgot the part, "and the blood transfusion scenario were, in theory, possible explanations." Let's remember about a year ago, there was plasticizer found in Contador's sample inferring that he had received a blood transfusion (from a plastic bag) during that rest day.
Unfortunately the testing protocol for the plasticizer wasn't validated and couldn't be used as evidence. However, it sure didn't paint a pretty picture of what Contador might have really been doing during the rest day in the 2010 Tour de France.
With that statement in its press release Saxo is already starting the positive spin that Contador is really the victim of accidental contamination. Contador has gathered sympathy from numerous pros and retired pros alike.
Andy Schleck is now the official winner of the 2010 Tour de France and he's not happy about it.
"This is just a very sad day for cycling. The only positive news is that there is a verdict after 566 days of uncertainty. We can finally move on."
Who can blame him? Every athlete wants to win on the field of battle, not in the court room 566 days later. What's curious to me is he believes in Contador's innocence. But let's hold off on that for a moment and hear other pros' comments.
Oscar Pereiro, who inherited his Tour victory after the disqualification of Landis took to Twitter and said, "Do you know what I think? That he is innocent, I know him!" Unfortunately Pereiro's gut feeling can't be used in a court of law.
Pedro Delgado also picked up his smart phone and tweeted, ""I CANNOT BELIEVE IT. The UCI, WADA and CAS are just looking to make names for themselves. They ought to go away and reconsider the fight against doping." Either Delgado's cap lock key was stuck or he's really upset!
From there it goes on and on, pro after pro not believing the outcome and proclaiming Contador was innocent, or he was a good guy, or it's killing the sport. You get the picture. But why?
Again my thought is that these pros - especially the ex-pros - might think that we can go back in time and take away past victories. Let's be honest, Eddy Merckx is a great rider, but also one that was suspended for doping. That said, there's no way we're taking away his wins. But let's look at Saxo Bank director Bjarne Riis. He admitted to doping during his 1996 Tour win, but he's still listed as the official winner of that Tour. Could this ruling have created a precedent to going back and changing the general classification? Realistically, no.
The winners in all this are technically Schleck, now the 2010 Tour winner and Michele Scarponi, who is now crowned the victor in the 2011 Giro. Neither rider feels like a winner, but that's the reality.
What ultimately surprised me is that the rule for clenbuterol is so plain. It is a zero threshold drug meaning there can't be any in your system. It may not be fair, but that's the rules. Contador never made a case saying it wasn't there, but instead he blamed tainted steak for causing the positive result.
I personally think Contador could have gotten a lot worse. He could have lost all his past victories in addition to being banned for two years starting from the day of this ruling - February 6th, 2012. Sure he can appeal, but CAS has a perfect winning record regarding appeals - it's a waste of time.
Now we have two Tour de France winners disqualified, but how many might be coming? The Armstrong legal investigation might be over, but WADA and USADA are digging in and who knows what Floyd Landis has planned. This is the new reality in cycling. Victories are not only won on the roads, but in the court room too.