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Plenty of needle as cycling's doping cloud clears
Resolution of doping cases puts cycling in the wrong gear
Wednesday, 15 February, 2012 | 09:00
Credit: Álvaro Campo García
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If there was ever a sport which needed some good news, cycling is it. The affable Australian Cadel Evans aside, it seems there isn’t a recent winner of the Tour de France who hasn’t in some way been linked with doping. The cases of Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong and Jan Ulrich have hung like dark clouds over the sport. The resolution of these cases has however left much to be desired - it seems with every step the world of cycling takes away from its murky past, there are some within who are keen to drag it back down.

The Spaniard Contador has been banned for two years following the discovery of clenbuterol – a performance-enhancing steroid – in his system. The test result is from a rest day during the 2010 Tour de France, which Contador maintains was the day he ate beef that was contaminated with the drug. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has finally ruled in a 98-page judgement that the cause of the failed test was unlikely to be contaminated food, and due to the sport’s strict liability laws, that is enough to leave his glittering career in tatters. Indeed the judgement brought little clarity to the issue; no one really knows how the miniscule amount of clenbuterol ended up in Contador’s system, however the fact that Contador cannot produce a satisfactory excuse means he is guilty.

Yet again the record books have had to be changed, as Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck is due to be announced as the 2010 Tour de France winner and the cycling world mourns another disgraced victor. Perhaps the greatest surprise in all of this has been the reaction of Alberto’s colleagues to the news. Many have given the diminutive Spaniard their backing - Schleck himself has voiced his belief that Contador was telling the truth, whilst cycling great Eddy Merckx described the decision as a ‘disgrace’. Though the court could pin-point the exact butcher, slaughterhouse and buyer of the meat, they needed to prove little more than the fact that the drug was in his system and that it was unlikely that the cow in question was a known body builder. A permanent asterisk will blight the records for the rest of Contador’s career.

It was a busy week for CAS. The Contador decision was swiftly followed by the decision that the retired former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich has been found guilty of blood doping in 2005. The German’s name had been attached to blood bags the disgraced doctor Eufemiano Fuentes had been found with when the scandal broke in 2006. Although Ullrich always denied his involvement with Fuentes, the court decided on the balance of evidence he had at the very least engaged in blood doping during 2005.

The German had been a perennial runner-up to Lance Armstrong during his career, who also found himself also in the news this month. The federal investigation that had looked to finally establish a connection between the American and doping was abandoned after nearly two years. Lance’s seven Tour de France victories will remain unblemished in the record books. The decision to halt the investigation has put cost over justice; the US Attorney’s office had the resources but could find no incontrovertible evidence beyond just one man’s word against Armstrong’s. After all, it would be foolish for the US government to put so much effort into tarnishing the reputation of one of its own national heroes if the outcome was uncertain.

Though his behaviour has hardly been squeaky clean, in Armstrong’s case there will be no smoking gun. The Texan’s persecution of anyone who campaigned against doping will forever haunt his denials. However, it is the sport that gave him his fame that will ultimately have to deal with the consequences. Cycling and doping go hand in hand once more.

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