News Shorts – Feb 8, 2012

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The action this week in cycling was in the court rooms, which only enriches news. US federal prosecutors closed a doping case against Lance Armstrong and a sporting court banned and stripped wins, including the 2010 Tour de France, from Alberto Contador. It sounds gloomy, and some of it is, but positive aspects often rise from these cases.

This shouldn’t distract completely from the races, which were plentiful and revealing this week, including Mark Cavendish’s first win in the rainbow jersey. First, though, let’s talk about doping.

Contador receives ban

Spain’s Alberto Contador won the 2010 Tour de France but failed doping tests along the way. The results became public on September 30 and were enough to see Contador banned on Monday, 18 months later.

Sport’s high court in Switzerland, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), “found Alberto Contador guilty of a doping offence,” read a press release on Monday. “Contador is sanctioned with a two-year period of ineligibility.”

The ban starts retroactively on January 25, 2011, and continues through August 5 this year. (The CAS shortened it by five months and 19 days because Contador served a provisional suspension following the 2010 Tour.) The cycling federation, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) announced shortly afterwards that it would strip Contador of the 2010 Tour, 2011 Giro d’Italia and other wins.

“His suspension,” said the UCI, “backdated to 25 January 2011 entails the amendment of the classifications of all events.”

After Floyd Landis lost the 2006 Tour to Oscar Pereiro, this is only the second time the Tour strips a cyclist of his win. It should award Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck the win.

Contador promises continued fight

Overnight in Madrid, Contador joined Saxo Bank team boss, Bjarne Riis to announce his fight would continue.

“An appeal?” said Contador on Tuesday. “The lawyers are evaluating this. I’m not ruling out anything. I will say that I am going to fight until the end to show my innocence.”

Contador and his lawyers fought the case to sport’s highest court. Their only option now is to appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Landis appealed to the tribunal and lost.

Regardless, he vowed to return at the end of this year.

“I will continue. I will continue to train and to race in a clean way, how I’ve always done.”

Riis and the team support Contador.

“We’ve decided to support Alberto 100 per cent,” Riis explained. “We will continue to support him.”

Riis won the 1996 Tour, but over ten years later, admitted he doped along the way with Erythropoietin (EPO).

The conference was interrupted several times with applause. Spanish media mostly ridiculed the CAS ruling and support Contador as it has Alejandro Valverde, who served a doping ban and returned at the Tour Down Under.

The Contador/Clenbuterol timeline

Contador tested plosive for Clenbuterol on the Tour’s second rest day in Pau, July 21. The drug helps breathing and weight loss in athletes and is used by rogue cattle farmers, predominately in China and Mexico, to increase production. Contador claims he ingested the drug via a contaminated steak he ate on the rest day.

The probability of eating a contaminated steak in Europe is rare. In fact, only one in 83,203 samples was contaminated in samples taken between 2008 and 2009.

The CAS said that the presence “is more likely to have been caused by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement than by a blood transfusion or contaminated meat.” It added, Contador failed to provide evidence that showed he was not at fault.

Alberto Contador winning the 2011 Giro d'Italia

Contador said at last year’s Giro he was racing for the fans: “The amount of fans out there – in the cold, the rain – that’s the most important thing.” Some of those same fans felt cheated during the trials and on hearing Monday’s ruling. Contador would have helped himself and the sport by telling the truth immediately.

“18 months is too much, but the charges were serious,” team Cofidis’ manager, Eric Boyer said. “Contador won doped. And he shaped the races for his rivals even when he wasn’t able to win.”

Here is a timeline of those 18 months:

July 21, 2010: Gives urine sample in UCI anti-doping test in Pau on the second rest day
July 25: Wins third Tour de France title over Andy Schleck by 39 seconds
August 3: Saxo Bank announces Alberto Contador joins for the 2011 and 2012 season
August 24: The UCI informs Contador of positive test for Clenbuterol. 50 picograms or 0.000 000 000 05 grams per ml were found in his urine.
September 30: Contador announces his positive test. The UCI announces his temporally suspension
October 5: The New York Times reports plasticizers found in Contador’s urine control, indicating a possible illegal blood transfusion. The analysis to test this link is yet approved.
November 8: The UCI requests Spanish federation to open a disciplinary hearing after it exams all of Contador’s anti-doping tests from the Tour de France with WADA
January 26, 2011: The Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) notifies Contador of a likely one-year ban and loss of his 2010 Tour de France title.
February 15: RFEC acquits Contador of the charges
March 24: The UCI appeals the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)
March 29: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) joins the UCI’s appeal
May 20: The CAS announces it will hear Contador June 6 to 8
May 29: Contador wins the Giro d’Italia
May 31: The CAS delays until August, which frees Contador to race the Tour
July 26: The WADA asks to delay the hearing until November
November 21-24: The CAS hears case in Lausanne, Switzerland
January 23, 2012: Contador starts season in Argentina at Tour of San Luis, wins two mountain stages
February 5: Contador races Trofeo Palma in Mallorca Challenge (his last race before ban)
February 6: The CAS bans Contador for two years with reduction for time already out of competition: January 25, 2011, to August 5, 2012. He loses 2010 Tour, 2011 Giro and other races.

Contador stripped of 12 race wins

Contador will take the shameful title of first cyclist stripped of the Giro d’Italia win. He is only the second, after Landis, to lose the Tour title. In total, he loses 12 races due to his doping and back-dated ban.

“It ends an interminable process,” said Tour director, Christian Prudhomme. It is “embarrassing for the organisers of all the races in which Contador had been able to take part.”

The Giro, unlike the Tour, welcomed Contador with open arms when the organiser knew there was a serious doping case hanging over his head. He won the race easily ahead of Italian Michele Scarponi. Scarponi takes the race title and gains the most from Contador doping verdict. Australian Richie Porte inherits Contador’s Castilla y Leon time trial win

Lost races and new winners:
2010 Tour de France – Andy Schleck
2011 Vuelta a Murcia (2 stages and overall) – Denis Menchov, Jérôme Coppel & Coppel
2011 Volta a Catalunya (1 stage and overall) – Scarponi & Scarponi
2011 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon stage 4 – Richie Porte
2011 Giro d’Italia (2 stages and overall) – José Rujano, Vincenzo Nibali & Scarponi
2012 Tour de San Luis (2 stages) – Levi Leipheimer & Daniel Diaz

Saxo Bank and Contador still in trouble

Team Saxo Bank risks losing its WorldTour licence due to Contador’s doping ban. The Danish team drops considerably down the UCI’s rankings without Contador for 2010 and 2011.

The UCI said in a press release it “will ask its licence commission to issue a ruling on whether the Saxo Bank-SunGard team should retain its place in the UCI WorldTour.” It added that Contador’s points account for 68 per cent of Saxo Bank’s points and if they are disregarded then “his team would no longer be considered to fulfil the sporting criterion” for a WorldTour licence.

Riis said in Tuesday’s conference in Madrid that he supports Contador, but is unable to respect the two-year contract that runs through through December. “Alberto can’t race,” explained Riis, “so the contract cant be fulfilled.” It is estimated at €4.5m annually.

Saxo Bank risks slipping into the second division and losing its secured places in WorldTour races, such as the Tour, the Giro and many of the one-day classics. It won the Tour of Flanders last year with Nick Nuyens.

“Alberto will not stop cycling,” brother Fran told Spanish media. However, he will have to pay €2,485,000 in fines if the UCI has its way.

The UCI to fine Contador 70 per cent of his income for 2010, the year he tested plosive. That amount combined with his legal costs (around €1m) will ensure Contador returns to work, cycling or other, soon.

Tour in turmoil

Since 1995, only two Tour de France winners’ victories were not tainted by doping allegations or tests: Carlos Sastre in 2008 and Cadel Evans last year.

“Cycling has done more than enough to show it’s doing the right things when it comes to the fight against drugs,” Evans said in London, according to SBS.

“Now it’s time for other sports to look to cycling and replicate what we do so the fight against drugs in sports can maybe be beaten one day across all sports.”

Contador and Evans at Challenge Ciclista Mallorca.

Evans points the positive aspect of the Contador case, which is that cycling is fighting doping. The sport does more than most sports to fight doping via its biological passport and out-of-competition controls.

Zero, zero, zero remix

Just to keep a smile on your face, Contador counts off the zeros in his positive test for Clenbuterol: 0.000 000 000 05 grams per millilitre.

Armstrong doping investigation continues

Armstrong’s doping-related case was closed in Los Angeles without charges on Friday, but process saw Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton confess. They both opened the door to the darker side of cycling in the Armstrong era.

US federal prosecutors scope was limited to non-doping charges, such as fraud. It looked into accusations that he used tax payers’ money via the team’s US Postal sponsorship contract to fund a doping programme. However, the legal documents will now make their way to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – agencies that are able to pursue doping charges.

Lance Armstrong being interviewed after Stage 5 of the 2011 Santos Tour Down Under.

“Of course the investigation was into allegations of fraud, but a large amount of the evidence gathered is likely to be highly pertinent to doping,” said WADA in a statement on Saturday. Travis T. Tygart, USADA chief executive said something similar, “Our investigation into doping is continuing. We look forward to obtaining the information.”

Armstrong won the Tour a record seven times from 1999 to 2005. He denies doping.

Qatar and Mallorca showcase stars

Racing in Qatar and Spain allowed fans to focus on the actual sport. Mark Cavendish won his first race as World Champion, the third stage of the Tour of Qatar yesterday.

“I said I wanted to make the jersey proud,” Cavendish said in a team Sky press release. “You never really get the season going until you get that first win under your belt.”

He had a fever and didn’t contest the first stage, but the third stage showed he’s eager to have a successful year.

“I want to repeat 2009 where I was successful throughout the whole season,” he said. “I’d like to win Milano-Sanremo again. I said when I won it last time in 2009 that I wanted to win it again in the world champion’s jersey.”

He said he fears Matt Goss the most. “When he’s on form, he’s incredible,” Cavendish said in a press conference. “He can climb very well and he’s clever.”

When Cavendish won gold in Copenhagen ahead of Goss, his British team-mate, Andy Fenn won the bronze medal in the Under 23 race.

On Sunday and Monday, he took his debut wins as a professional in the Challenge Mallorca. With team OmegaPharma-Quick Step help, he sprinted ahead of the field in the first two days of the race.

“It’s a great surprise to get a win in my first year,” Fenn said. “The team supported me, telling me at the start they were going to work for me.”

Cavendish Tweeted of his fellow Brit, “This lad is good, believe me.”

The Tour of Qatar continues with three more stages:
Stage 4: February 8: Al Thakhira – Madinat Al Shamal, 144km
Stage 5: February 9: Al Khor Corniche, 160km
Stage 6: February 10: Sealine Beach Resort – Doha Corniche, 120km

Many riders will stay in the Middle East for the Tour of Oman, a more mountainous version of the Tour of Qatar.

Stage 1: February 14: Al Alam Palace – Wadi Al Huwqayn, 159km
Stage 2: February 15: Wadi Dayquh Dam – Sur, 140km
Stage 3: February 16: Al Awabi – Bank Muscat, 144km
Stage 4: February 17: Bidbid – Al Wadi al Kabir, 142km
Stage 5: February 18: Royal Opera House – Jabal Al Akhdar, 158km
Stage 6: February 19: Al Khawd – Matrah Corniche, 130km

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