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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 28 November, 2014

Burning question: should Contador’s ban have been overturned?

The Tour de France champion is competing today after he had a doping suspension overturned. As Mrs Merton used to say: let’s have a heated debate.

Image: Manu Mielniezuk/AP/Press Association Images

Yes

Why does nobody believe that the clenbuterol in Alberto Contador’s urine came from eating “contaminated meat”? After all, theoretically-speaking, there is a chance that it’s true. Although, to be honest, it sounds so implausible that the Spaniard probably has difficulty believing it himself at times.

But forget about dodgy beef for a second and look at the facts.

Firstly, in the days prior to his positive test on 21 July, Contador had been required to undergo a number of anti-doping tests. Nothing untoward was found.

Secondly, the amount of clenbuterol found in Contador’s urine was 50 picograms, an amount so minute that the majority of the labs accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency would not have been able to detect it. It just so happened that Contador’s sample was sent to one of the very few labs with equipment sensitive enough to do so.

Now, clenbuterol does not occur naturally in the human body and therefore shouldn’t be there in any quantity – but if such a tiny level is sufficient to justify a doping ban, then shouldn’t this be the minimum level necessary for any lab to be accredited?

Why are the authorities holding Contador to a higher standard than they legally obliged to hold other athletes? If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might start trotting out cliches about there being one rule for the champion and one rule for everyone else.

Finally, and most importantly, experts have almost universally agreed that 50 picograms of clenbuterol is not enough to make any real difference to an athlete’s performance. If the Spaniard was engaging in doping to give himself a competitive advantage, then surely he would have taken enough of the substance to do so?

Is Contador guilty? Decide for yourself. But stack all the arguments up and I reckon there’s enough “reasonable doubt” there to uphold any appeal.

- Niall Kelly

No

The Tour de France champion is feeling sorry for himself it seems. This morning, before he climbed on his bike, he told a Spanish TV station: “What’s hurt me most has been the serious attack on my honour.

“Terrible things have been said about me and have done me irreparable damage. I now have another scar, which is inside and which will accompany me throughout my life.”

Cycling too been scarred. Again.

The sport is probably free-wheeling towards irrelevance at this stage after years of damaging doping scandals. It’s poster boy for the past decade Lance Armstrong sits in the proverbial dock stateside and his natural successor Alberto Contador pedals under a cloud of suspicion.

He says that mere days before he was to turn into the Champs Elysee under a yellow jersey, he broke with his team’s strict Tour routine. The Spaniard claims he had a friend cross the Pyrenees with Iberian meat. No steak in France was good enough.

He claims the food was contaminated and this is how the traces of clenbuterol came to be found in his body. That’s hard to swallow.

Today he’s back in the saddle at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal. And whether he’s innoccent or not, it’s clear he would not be there without political pressure. The Royal Spanish Cycling Federation cleared him after several politicians publicly backed their national treasure.

Earlier, he told a Spanish radio station: ”It’s important (to race again), not only for me, but for my team and all the people who have supported me.”  The peloton is yet more tainted. But he owes his place at it’s front, to those who’ve helped him back.

- Adrian Russell

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