Comment: Cycling is already the loser in Contador case
Alberto Contador after stage 19 TT, Andy Jones at the Tour de France 2010
On Monday next week a hearing panel will convene at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, to rule on the case of Alberto Contador's positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.
It has been nearly 18 months since the Spaniard tested positive for a trace quantity of the banned drug during the final rest day of the Tour in Pau on July 21, 2010. Contador went on to win the race overall.
Since then one of the sport's biggest names has been suspended, cleared, and conspicuously won a host of top-level races including the 2011 Giro d'Italia in May. And been almost constantly the subject of rumour and suspicion.
Contador has maintained his complete innocence throughout the past year and a half. On the same day that news of his positive test broke, in September 2010, Contador swiftly provided a theory that he must have unwittingly ingested clenbuterol via a tainted steak brought by a friend from Spain to France.
To the casual observer who neither knows nor cares what clenbuterol is or does, it's just another 'shady cyclist' failing a drug test and making excuses. Another itchy, custard-headed boil on the face of professional cycling that can't easily be covered up and forgotten.
Each year we invite readers of Cycling Weekly to vote for their hero and villain of the year as part of our annual reader poll. This year just as last, Contador is fighting for the not-so-coveted title of villain with Riccardo Ricco, a man who allegedly attempted to inject a black sausage into his veins in the hope that it might make him faster. He ended up in hospital in a near-death experience.
The CAS hearing panel will take four days to observe the supporting arguments of both sides in the case: Contador and the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) on one side, and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and World-Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on the other.
Whatever the outcome, cycling has already lost. It's a case that can now come to no satisfactory conclusion after months of confusion, deliberation and periods of awkward silence.
Accepting the positive dope test and imposing a mandatory two-year suspension on Contador will mean that he will be stripped of his 2010 Tour de France win, and all results since then including the 2011 Giro d'Italia. In the eyes of many, that would also bring into doubt all of his other victories during his career.
Uphold RFEC's decision to clear Contador and let him off, and it makes a mockery of the anti-doping system that sets out to punish knowing cheats. It's a system that is already sheltering from heavy fire, and this may be the killer blow.
It seems likely that all parties in the dispute may have to unite to save face and limit the damage to the sport itself. A compromise looks the likely outcome, with a short back-dated ban, a fine and a public wrist-slapping allowing Contador to keep some or all of his 2011 results but showing that - in some small way at least - doping will not be tolerated.
Reports on Monday suggest that CAS will not reveal the outcome of the hearing until January 2012. It's another extended wait for the promised conclusion of a case that has already taken far too long to resolve.