Tour de France champ Contador will fight his suspension

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

Alberto Contador, the Tour de France champion from Spain, said Friday that he would not stand for any punishment -- including being stripped of his Tour title -- for failing a drug test last summer. He continued to say that he was not at fault for ingesting the banned substance and said he intended to appeal the one-year suspension.

''I will defend my innocence until the end," Contador said, according to The Associated Press, at a news conference in Mallorca, where his Saxo Bank-SunGard team was training.

On Wednesday, the Spanish Cycling Federation, which is handling the case, proposed that Contador receive a one-year ban for testing positive for very small traces of clenbuterol, a banned drug that athletes often use to lose weight and gain lean muscle.

That ban would be a reduction from the usual two-year ban for a first-time doping offense, but Contador called the federation's proposal painful and unjust, saying he feels like a victim in an anti-doping system he no longer believes in.

He has denied ever doping, claiming that the positive test was triggered by contaminated beef he ate during the Tour's final rest day in July.

Contador and his lawyers have about 10 days to present more evidence and arguments to the Spanish federation before a final ruling is made. Contador, the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency then could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which would make a final decision.

Contador said he was upset that the Spanish cycling officials accepted his tainted beef defense yet still wanted to bar him from racing.

''They are recognizing that I'm innocent and then they give me a one-year ban," he said. "I can't explain that. I can't defend that. I can't do anything more."

If the federation believed his food-contamination defense, it could have cleared Contador, according to World Anti-Doping Agency rules. Those rules say an athlete could have his penalty eliminated if he establishes how the prohibited drug entered his system and that it was not possible to know that he was being exposed to the drug.

Bjarne Riis, the leader of the Saxo Bank-SunGard team, said that he would continue to support Contador, as long as the clenbuterol was ingested inadvertently.

''It is extremely important we can distinguish between those who try to cheat on purpose and those who take something by accident," Riis said during the news conference.

Andy Ramos, Contador's lawyer, wrote in an e-mail Friday that he thought the Spanish federation misinterpreted several anti-doping rules in making its decision.

Ramos said he was challenging the federation's understanding of the definition of "no fault" that is detailed in the cycling union's anti-doping rules. It says a rider would not be at fault if "he did not know or suspect, and could not have reasonably known or suspected even with the exercise of utmost caution, that he had used or been administered the prohibited substance."

Still, the evidence in the case has not been made public, so it remains unclear why the Spanish federation ruled as it did.

Scientists have discovered high amounts of a plasticizer -- a chemical commonly found in plastic IV bags -- in one of Contador's urine samples from the Tour, a person briefed on the results said. That may indicate that Contador received a blood transfusion during the Tour. But the test has not yet been validated, so those test results may not be a part of his case.

Ramos said that Contador's lawyers were using the tennis player Richard Gasquet's case as precedent for Contador's being vindicated. The Court of Arbitration for Sport acknowledged that Gasquet had probably tested positive for cocaine in 2009 because he had kissed a woman who was using the drug.

The International Tennis Federation and the World Anti-Doping Agency appealed a decision by the tennis federation's tribunal to give Gasquet a two-and-a-half month suspension. They wanted to increase the ban to one to two years.

The court dismissed both appeals, ruling that it appeared more than likely that the miniscule amount of cocaine found in Gasquet's urine did not come from doping or regular use of the drug.

Contador also had miniscule amounts of a banned drug in his system.

Last fall, the Italian cyclist Alessandro Colo received a one-year ban from the Italian Olympic Committee for testing positive for clenbuterol, after claiming he ate tainted beef in Mexico. Colo said the committee ruled that he should have known that clenbuterol was often found in Mexican meat.

Enrico Carpani, a spokesman for the International Cycling Union, said the cycling union would decide by Monday if it would appeal Colo's case.

He said cycling officials would receive Contador's case file after the Spanish federation made a ruling in mid-February. The cycling union would then have 30 days to review the evidence and appeal.