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El País: Contador Receives Absolution

Alberto Contador, Tour de France, Clenbuterol, doping case. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty.El Paìs today confirmed that the Spanish Federation has decided not to sanction Alberto Contador for his positive test from the 2010 Tour de France. The Committee found that the positive test for 50 picograms of Clen "did not constitute an instance of doping" and consequently did not require a sanction. The Federation communicated the decision to Contador today and confirmed widespread reports from yesterday that the rider would receive no sanction. Contador is now eligible to ride and could start the Volta ao Algarve on Wednesday. The UCI and WADA have one month to appeal the Spanish decision at the sports arbitration court in Switzerland.

According to sources close to the decision-making, the disciplinary committee considered several factors. The Dimitri Ovtcharov case proved an important precedent for the committee. Ovtcharov, a ping pong player, tested positive for Clen, but did not receive a sanction from his national federation. In that case, several of the athlete's team mates showed signs of Clen, which supported Ovtcharov's claim that he had inadvertently ingested the substance. Though Contador could not offer similar proof, the Spanish disciplinary committee considered the two cases similar. The committee applied Article 296 of the UCI anti-doping rules, which allows that a rider may be exonerated if he did not intentionally ingest the banned substance. A source close to the committee denied that the public statements of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who argued that there was no legal grounds to sanction Contador, had influenced the outcome.

The UCI has one month to appeal to the sports arbitration court in Switzerland. So far, the organization has not commented on the Spanish decision. Though the UCI has previously said it would appeal a non-sanction, it remains to be seen if they actually follow through. The Spanish Federation did not address the evidence of plasticizers in Contador's blood samples, which may suggest blood doping. This aspect of the case might lead to an appeal from WADA, though the test is not yet officially validated. According to the rules, Contador should still lose the 2010 Tour de France title, because he tested positive during the race. The rules dictate the loss of results even in cases where the athlete is ruled to have ingested the banned substance unintentionally. No confirmation that the rule will be applied in this case has yet emerged.

Update: The Saxo Bank team has confirmed that Alberto Contador will start tomorrow at the Volta ao Algarve.

Update: So far, no real response from the UCI. But Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-doping Agency commented about the decision to The New York Times:

"It’s a very, very unique set of facts that would justify someone being completely cleared, so unique that we haven’t seen it at all, at least here in the United States," said Tygart, who added that he did not have knowledge of the Spanish federation’s decision. "If there’s truly been a flip-flop, as reported, it appears to be a classic example of the fox protecting the henhouse. It would look like they are protecting a national hero."

Update: Contador RFEC Final Decision, 14 February 2011.