Contador cleared of doping
Madrid - Spain's cycling federation cleared three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador on Tuesday of knowingly using a banned substance in a dramatic U-turn that means he can ride in this year's race.
The 28-year-old's future had hung in the balance since he announced last August he had tested positive for minute traces of the banned substance clenbuterol during last July's Tour de France.
He has repeatedly denied knowingly taking any banned substances, blaming the result on a steak he says was contaminated with traces of the muscle-building drug.
"I'm relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. It has been some very stressful months for me, but throughout the case I have been totally available for all inquiries," Contador said after the federation's final ruling was announced.
"All the way through I have spoken in accordance with the truth," he added in a statement distributed by his Saxo Bank team.
The decision marked an about-turn for Spain's cycling federation, whose competition committee last month had recommended a one-year ban for Contador, a ruling that would have stripped him of his 2010 Tour de France title.
Saxo Bank said Spain's cycling federation decided to clear Contador based on the evidence in the case and the explanation provided by the rider about unknowingly consuming a banned substance.
The decision means Contador, who joined Saxo Bank from Astana shortly after his third Tour win, is free to compete for the first time for his new team.
He will ride in the Tour of Algarve which gets underway Wednesday in southern Portugal.
But the International Cycling Union, the sport's world governing body, and the World Anti-Doping Agency have a month to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland, which would have the final word.
The president of the Spanish cycling federation, Juan Carlos Castano, said he was confident that the decision would stand up even if there is an appeal.
"We believe that the decision which the competition committee has taken is in keeping with the rules so there will be no problem to defend it here, in Switzerland or anywhere," he told reporters.
The rider has drawn high-profile support, including from Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero who said Thursday "there is no legal reason to sanction Contador".
But the federation head said this had not had any influence on their final decision in the case.
"The competition committee has acted independently, it has acted outside of all these statements," Castano said when asked if the support expressed for Contador from top officials had influenced the federation.
The online edition of daily newspaper El Mundo said the federation "accepted the theory of food contamination and the absence of any blame or negligence, based on article 296" of the International Cycling Union's (UCI) anti-doping regulations.
Article 296 effectively states that if a rider can establish that "he bears no fault or negligence, the otherwise applicable period of ineligibility shall be eliminated."
A statement released by the governing body acknowledged the decision, but said: "the UCI reserves the right to conduct an in-depth study of the reasons behind the decision before expressing its opinion."
Contador, who also won the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009, had threatened to quit the sport if he is slapped with a ban.
In an interview recorded for Spanish television before the announcement was made public, Contador said he had hoped the RFEC "would make a U-turn.
"Certainly the interview they had with me here, I think it was a very important interview. It was a tough interview in which nothing was hidden," he told VEO7, which released extracts of the interview, to be broadcast late on Tuesday.
Earlier this month he blasted anti-doping regulations which he said were outdated.
Clenbuterol was banned by the European Union in 1996 but it is still administered illicitly by some cattle farmers to increase lean meat in cattle.