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Echo Chamber: Contador Decision Due! One Year Sanction!

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2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador doping case Ah, I do love a reliable anonymous source, don't you? The Spanish media set off a whirl of speculation today on the fate of 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. The Contador decision will come this week. The Spanish Federation will ban the Spanish Tour winner for only one year. He will be free to ride in August. Or, so claimed the headlines. The stories appear to have originated at AS.com and Marca.com, who have slightly differing accounts.

The AS.com story runs two graphs and cites an anonymous source. According to AS, the Spanish Federation has not yet received information it needs from the UCI. That step in the case should take place this week. Perhaps this detail led to the speculation that the case would be decided this week. According to AS, that belief is incorrect. Instead, the Spanish Federation expects to receive information from the UCI this week. The actual case should run until February, and AS gives 11-15 February as dates for the likely decision.

Where does the one year sanction come from? AS writes, "According to an unofficial source, the sanction could be one year, in harmony with the sanction imposed on Italian rider Alessandro Colo." We don't know the source for this story, since it's like anonymous and stuff. It may mean that the Spanish Federation is looking at the Colo case as a possible precedent in deciding Contador's sanction. It could also mean that Contador's lawyers are using the Colo case to argue for a reduced sanction. Without knowing the source for this line of argument, we can't know with any certainty. Colo received a one year ban after ingesting Clenbuterol during a race in Latin America.

The Marca.com story, meanwhile, runs three sentences. I do love a detailed press report, don't you? Marca reports, contrary to the AS story, that Contador will know the decision of the Spanish anti-doping authorities in "the coming days." Marca does not give a source, but writes that all indications are that the sanction will be one year. Mr. All Indications, is he blonde or brunette? Tall or short? Hot or not? Of the two, the AS story is more credible in its details.

Cyclocosm usefully reminds us that once upon a time, Tyler Hamilton was certainly going to get off after his doping positive. We also repeatedly saw this pattern in the Valverde case. The Spanish media, often relying on sources close to Valverde, would declare the imminence of a reduced sanction or a not-guilty verdict. Then, as now, reliable anonymous sources close to the case said so. This word reliable, I do not think it means what you think it means. Indeed, sometimes even very reliable sources get complicated stories wrong. We all know how both the Hamilton and Valverde cases turned out.

No, my friends, it's far too soon to know the outcome of this Contador case. I will be quite surprised if the decision comes out this week. I do not have a crystal ball, of course. It's possible that Contador will receive a reduced sanction, but it's far too soon to say that with any degree of conviction. The Colo case does not perfectly match the Contador case in its details, and it may or may not provide the model for the arbiters to decide the fate of the 2010 Tour winner. Even if the Spanish Federation throws down a sanction in February, that decision will not likely end the story. With a Tour win on the line, this case will almost certainly take the long slog through a lengthy appeal.