GENEVA — Alberto Contador’s contaminated-beef defense will again be put to the test after cycling’s governing body decided Thursday to appeal the Tour de France champion’s doping acquittal.
The International Cycling Union said it will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to challenge the Spanish cycling federation’s decision not to ban Contador for his positive clenbuterol test.
“The decision to appeal comes after an in-depth study of the file received from the (Spanish federation),” the UCI said in a statement on the final day of the deadline for an appeal.
Contador was acquitted after testing positive July 21, 2010, a rest day during last year’s Tour de France. He blamed the finding on eating contaminated beef.
“I trust in my arguments and my lawyers,” Contador told Spanish sports daily AS after keeping his lead in the weeklong Volta of Catalunya on Thursday. “I found out about the appeal when I got to the finish line. The race has been like any other day.”
“We will go to the CAS to confirm my innocence even more so,” he added. “I would have liked there to have been no appeal, but it has happened.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency has three more weeks to decide if it will join the appeal. UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told The Associated Press that cycling officials had worked closely with WADA and “there is no reason to think they will not join us.”
WADA regards clenbuterol, a banned anabolic agent that burns fat and builds muscle, as a zero-tolerance drug. However, its rules allow athletes to escape discipline if they prove “no fault or negligence” on their part.
If a CAS panel finds him guilty of doping, Contador faces a two-year ban and loss of his Tour victory.
Contador can continue racing until CAS rules. He plans to start the May 7-29 Giro d’Italia, which he won in 2008.
CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb said Thursday it would be difficult but “not impossible” to deliver a verdict before this year’s Tour starts July 2. That would allow Contador a chance to defend his title if cleared.
“If all parties concerned would agree to an expedited procedure, the CAS could reasonably envisage to issue a final decision at the end of June,” Reeb said in a statement to the AP, adding that WADA’s entry in the case could extend the timetable.
Choosing to pursue the sport’s biggest name has been difficult for the UCI, Carpani said Thursday at the track world championships in the Netherlands.
“Every case for us is painful … because we would like to have a sport without doping cases,” Carpani said, adding that the UCI wanted to prove it would do all it could to get “the best decision” in the case. “We want it for us, for Contador and for the whole sport of cycling.”
The UCI announced last September that Contador was suspended after minute traces of clenbuterol were found in his system, and asked the Spanish federation to investigate. The Spanish body’s disciplinary committee originally proposed a one-year ban in January. Contador’s legal team then offered new evidence and he was cleared to race three weeks later.
“Now we are the judged, not the judges, along with Contador,” Spanish Cycling Federation spokesman Luis Roman told the AP.
The federation later said it will defend the disciplinary panel’s verdict, “taking each and every necessary action to maintain the innocence of the athlete.”
Days before the decision to clear Contador, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had said “there’s no legal reason to justify sanctioning Contador.”
Jaime Lissavetzky, Spain’s sports minister, said Thursday he hoped the Swiss-based court will act quickly to end “a situation that does not benefit anyone.”
Contador resumed his career with new team Saxo Bank-Sungard and has since completed two races. He was fourth in the Tour of Algarve in Portugal and won the Vuelta of Murcia in Spain.
Team owner Bjarne Riis was standing by his star rider.
“Alberto Contador was acquitted in the first place and therefore is innocent of any deliberate wrongdoing until a ruling says something else,” said Riis, the 1996 Tour winner who later admitted doping during his career. “As long as this is a case of accidental intake of a forbidden substance, we will continue to support Alberto Contador.”
Contador is one of only five cyclists to win the three Grand Tours — the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta. He also won the Tour in 2007 and 2009, and was prevented from defending his first title in 2008 because his Astana team was banned for doping offenses at the previous year’s race.
Only one cyclist has lost a Tour title for doping. Floyd Landis of the United States was stripped of his 2006 victory for testing positive for testosterone.