The Return of Alberto Contador
August 6th was an important day for someone. No it wasn't a national holiday, anniversary or my birthday - it was the return of Alberto Contador to professional cycling.
Just to bring everyone up to speed regarding Señor Contador - does everyone remember where they were back in September of 2010? I remember it well because the movie Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D had come out at the theaters and I was sure that this newest installment of the Resident Evil franchise was going to be the best (side note - it wasn't). Anyways, Contador had won the Tour de France for a third time, which is pretty darn impressive! In this era of "clean riding" it's getting harder and harder to win the Tour back to back. Turns out that winning the Tour de France is really hard to do! Who knew?
We found out that during the Tour de France, which is contested in July, his sample contained trace amounts of clenbuterol. Two things came to mind: how is it that two months later we're finding out that the winner of the Tour de France had a positive doping sample and what the heck is clenbuterol?
Well apparently the A.S.O. wasn't too keen on disclosing that their current Tour de France winner returned with a positive drug result. That's just bad for business. Remember, Le Tour is big business. So while they were actually trying to figure out what to do next it turns out that the German media knew about Contador's positive result and were going to go public. As any smart public relations person will tell you, it's better to get ahead of the story rather than try to spin it after the fact. So that's what they did - announced the positive result.
Clenbuterol is a weight-loss and muscle-building drug normally used on cattle to lean them out. How did "clen," as the "cool" kids call it, get introduced into Contador's system? According to Alberto's defense team it was in the steak that he ate during the rest day when he decided to eat differently from the usual team menu of al dente spaghetti. Lesson to everyone - don't be that guy that wants to be special with their food choices. Eat what everyone else is eating and pretend to be happy about it.
I know what you're going to say next, "Hey, I heard there was something else found in El Pistolero's blood." That's true and bonus points to you for remembering! Plasticizers were also detected in a sample taken a day before the clenbuterol positive. In fact eight times more than what might normally be found in someone's urine was discovered. What are plasticizers? How did plastic get into his system? Did he chew on a pen? Did he eat a plastic clenbuterol cow?
According to WADA's key witness, Australian doping expert Michael Ashenden, plasticizers could indicate illegal blood transfusions. But here's the rub - there's no test formally approved to detect plasticizers.
As I'm sure you're well aware, while this was all going on, Contador continued to race because his cycling federation, the RFEC, cleared him of all the charges. And boy did he race! He won the Giro d'Italia, but could only finish in fifth place overall at the Tour de France. Hell, Thomas Voeckler beat him that year - wrap your head around that fact for a minute! Didn't I tell you that winning the Tour de France back to back was harder than it looks?
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) wasn't going to take that and appealed. Long story short, in February of 2012 the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled kinda in favor of WADA. Why "kinda?"
Contador's 2011 Giro d'Italia and 2010 Tour de France victories were taken away. However, instead of a two year ban, Contador could return to racing in August 2012 - in time for his national tour, the 2012 Vuelta a España.
This week Contador dipped his toes back into professional cycling at the Eneco Tour. This seven-day stage race in the Netherlands is the tune-up race before the Vuelta, and Alberto's suspension ended just the day before it was to start. Now that's convenient! Barring an accident Al should get through his race with no problems and line up in Pamplona on August 18.
If there was ever a stage race designed to suit Contador's abilities it's the 2012 edition of La Vuelta a Espana. There will be 13 medium or high mountain stages with ten hill or summit finishes. A team time trial opens up the Vuelta and there's only one other race against the clock - a 40 kilometer test at about the halfway point of the Vuelta.
Second place Tour de France finisher Chris Froome of Team Sky is returning to the Vuelta and must be looking to improve on his second place to Jose Cobo. Another favorite is Joaquim Rodriguez who must have been salivating when he saw the number of climbs listed. But for me the main favorite has to be Contador.
To say he'll be motivated is the understatement of the year. He'll be out to prove that he was unjustly sanctioned. In an interview with the Spanish website Marca.com he said he's been using the suspension to do reconnaissance of the entire Vuelta. Sure he won't have the race days in his legs like his competitors, but he'll be fired up and fresh. But here's the question I ask of you - do you care that Alberto Contador has returned?
On Twitter I see people passionate both ways about Contador - from fans thinking he was screwed by the system that didn't give him a chance to defend himself properly to others that believe the clenbuterol and plasticizers found in his sample were all we needed to prove guilt. Or are you tired of the whole thing, wishing that we'd just return to the racing and let the past be the past? I've discovered that much like the Armstrong/USADA battle going on, it's pretty much a waste of both sides' time to try to convince the other.
Armstrong, Contador, Landis, Hamilton, WADA, USADA, whatever - I will still love the sport and that's all I'll try and convince you to do. Love the sport. There's still magnificent racing and athletes involved in it racing day in and day out riding for what is basically your entertainment. So cheer on Contador or Froome or whoever, but remember to cheer.
Roadcycling.com will have video highlights from all stages of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana - so stay tuned.