Tour de France - Blazin' Saddles: Hero to zero (comma) zero zero...
The dust has finally settled on the shock decision to give high-flying Alberto Contador the same punishment for having clenbuterol in his system as that Chinese bloke no one had heard of.
To help get your head around the complicated case, Saddles now presents an alternative Contador Q&A with questions coming from an imaginary inquisitive fan (a.k.a. Saddles' niece Stabi Lisa).
Q. Thanks for the introduction, Uncle Saddles. You say it was the same outcome as that previous case, but it wasn't really, was it?
Well, not entirely. The Chinese rider in question, Li Fuyu, was sacked by his team, was not allowed to appeal and has pretty much disappeared from the sport since. Bertie had the luxury of getting full support (not to mention full salary) from Bjarne Riis and Saxo Bank, plus he rode on, picking up 12 wins – including last year's Giro. Granted, he has to return all the cash and titles now, but look on the bright side: it beats training alone in self-Piti for two years. That's what happened to Ivan Basso and, to a lesser extent, Alejandro Valverde. Contador only has six months on the sidelines. What a Birillo outcome! As Michael Rasmussen said, it's a small price to pay.
Q. Li Fuyu, he sounds familiar. Where do I know him from?
He used to ride with Contador under Johan Bruyneel at Discovery. He joined RadioShack the year Bruyneel switched over from Astana – and he turned in his positive test for clenbuterol four months before Bertie was snared. But don't go looking for any coincidental links between the cases and the similar protagonists – Saddles assures you there are none.
Q. So, what did happen in the RadioShack team car the day Alberto paid Lance Armstrong and Bruyneel a visit during the 2010 Tour?
Good question. Rumour has it Contador was just saying hello and picking up some replacement food supplements. He also had a watch to give to both former colleagues, if Saddles can remember correctly.
Q. Can you sum up the CAS decision in a snappy phrase or two?
Well, in a nutshell, Contador put all his eggs in one meat basket, but that was deemed a red herring. You see, it was a strict liability case, and WADA has a zero-tolerance when it comes to clenbuterol. Bertie asked them to bend the rules and have a zero-comma-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-five-tolerance, but they just laughed in his face.
Q. Who has benefited most from the outcome?
Well, certainly not Andy Schleck, who was awarded the 2010 Tour title in Contador's place. Talk about an anti-climax – especially given he's now jinxed not to win it again the proper way. Michele Scarponi is in the limelight for being the de facto 2011 Giro champion, but given his past, he's probably a bit sheepish about this too. The UCI are in a bit of a pickle, given the length it took for a decision to be made, the number of races both indirectly and directly affected by Contador's presence since, plus the bad press that comes with the sport's biggest name dragged through the mud.
WADA seem pretty pumped with the result, with president John Fahey making a gung-ho comment about finally nailing that "doping cheat Contador". Still, you can see why he's happy: with their huge budget and profile, they have to win a few high-profile cases just to justify their existence – and they're certainly not doing anything with footballers or tennis players.
One chap who's certainly benefited is the Basque butcher from Irun who was accused of selling the Astana chef the supposed tainted meat. 63-year-old Javier Zabaleta, who has been cutting carcasses for half a century now, says business is booming, with tourists coming from afar to order his famous 'Contador steak' which they hope will increase their performance levels. (Saddles has tried it, but according to Mrs Saddles – a.k.a. the bike – it doesn't work.)
Organisers of the Vuelta will be rubbing their hands with glee too, for Contador's ban ends on August 5 and so he'll no doubt be keen to ride his home tour. Sandwiched between the Olympics and the Worlds, the Vuelta was shaping up to be a rather insignificant affair this year, despite its eye-catching route. Now it could well be the race of the season.
There's also Cadel Evans. Written off last year, the Australian will probably retire a back-to-back Tour winner in what has been a remarkable turn in his fortunes. And finally, Alberto himself, who no longer needs to be a vegetarian and can start eating properly again.
Q. In recent years, doping cases have always seemed to involve dogs. Lucky there are no pets implicated this year, right?
Indeed – although it was a close thing. When Contador won a stage in Verbier in the 2009 Tour, he was presented with a Saint Bernard dog on the podium. It would have been hard to return such a friendly creature to the UCI along with all those hefty fines, that's for sure. Besides, he may need a swig from the brandy barrel to help him get through the next few months.
Q. Going back to the CAS report, it sounds like Contador's legal team got it wrong.
You're right. Instead of spending all that money on a bunch of big-talking chancers, Bertie should have just taken Mr Zabaleta the butcher into court with him and played the food supplement card. Indeed, Javier told a French newspaper this week that the Swiss judges were so impressed with his own defence that they "said I had missed out on a successful career as a lawyer".
Q. Now the case is over after almost 600 days, I've decided to hold a dinner party to celebrate. What should I cook?
Too easy. It has to be veal solomillo – a small but delicious calf fillet. You see, that was the cut which apparently did for Bertie. But at 32 euros a kilo, it's doesn't come cheap (Contador's eating habits are expensive, to say the least). However, it's bound to assume a cult reputation amongst cycling fans – much like going to a pub in Flanders and asking for a 'pot Belge'.
Q. We've seen more pictures of Contador looking smart for court than we have of him in lycra recently. What kind of suits is he going to wear now Hugo Boss have pulled out of their sponsorship deal?
Well, given the money he owes in fines and legal costs, he'll probably have to shop at H&M for a bit, especially seeing he's no longer, ahem, Topman.
Q. That was such a dad joke, Uncle Saddles. Who will be Saxo Bank's main man this season now?
Eek, this is the hardest question so far. Richie Porte? Oh no, he's gone. Erm, perhaps Riis will tell Benjamin Noval and Daniel Navarro to just pretend that Takashi Miyazawa is Contador. Or maybe it opens the door to out-of-contract Franco Pellizotti, whose ban ends in May, just in time for the Giro.
Q. So Saxo are rather shanked?
In short, yes. Even if they get Pellizotti and Contador wins the Vuelta, as returning offenders their UCI points won't count. In fact, Bertie was responsible for 68% of Saxo's points last season, so technically they should not be allowed in the ProTour. Team Europcar have good grounds to feel aggrieved.
Q. Who are the French crowds going to boo now?
They'll find someone. Perhaps Thomas Voeckler when he fails to win the yellow jersey again.
Q. Whose wheel are Frandy going to follow in France?
Let's hope it's not Evans or the Tour will turn into that moment in track sprinting just before the final dash to the line, when the riders almost come to a standstill. Maybe the brothers will strike a deal with old boss Riis and get Navarro and Noval to pace them everywhere in return for future favours?
Q. I'm a Contador fan. What can I do now?
Besides waiting until August, not much. There's a chance he'll appeal, but a victory is unlikely. If you feel really hurt, you could follow the lead of a 74-year-old Spanish retired professor of ethology in Ayamonte, near Huelva. Unay Taiara Robles has gone on hunger strike until his hero's ban is overturned. Apparently Contador's winning performances on the bike helped him through a difficult stage in his life. Thing is, Saddles felt the same way about Floyd Landis back in the summer of 2006 when he was homesick and living in Paris.
Q. If you were Paul Sherwin and you had to make a proverb about the whole affair, what would it be?
Paul would probably say something about Africa and big game hunting, but Saddles will just say this: the fact that someone is unlikely to be struck by lightning is of no relevance when a person is found dead in a field with a scorch mark from head to toe.
Q. I don't get it – and I doubt many people will. So tell me, was Contador doping or not?
We still don't know. Basically, CAS concluded that his meat excuse was just as likely (or unlikely) as the idea that he performed a blood transfusion. Contador actually took a polygraph test and nothing suspicious showed up when he denied doping or transfusing blood. The levels of clenbuterol were so small that they could hardly have enhanced his performance – but there was still a banned substance in his blood, and he had no valid excuse for it being there. It's a bit like that time you found those magazines in Uncle Saddles' chest of drawers – sometimes, there's just no explanation.
Q. Thanks Uncle Saddles. You make everything so easy to understand. Can we do the same with Lance and Jan next week?
Don't push your luck, Stabi Lisa. Saddles would prefer to be in Qatar than have to dig up all that again.
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