Blazin' Saddles

Whiff-whaff in the woods

Blazin' Saddles

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Quite astonishingly, this week billions of cycling
column inches were filled with two things we all knew were going to happen all
along, namely the overturning of Alberto Contador's one-year ban and the
retirement of Lance Armstrong.

It was very like the Texan to choose to make his
second retirement official on exactly the same day as his old foe Alberto
announced he had been exonerated by his own national cycling federation. Talk
about piddling on Contador's vegetarian tapas.

It's a bit like Arsenal stealing North London rivals Tottenham's Champions
League thunder by selfishly beating Barcelona 24 hours after Spurs dispatched
Milan at the San Siro. Although retiring after a couple of largely shoddy years
in the saddle to face the Feds and dance to the music of time is hardly as big
an accomplishment as coming from behind to beat the world's best football team
- but still, you get the picture.

Contador described the decision to let him completely off the hook for having a
banned substance in his bloodstream as "a great step forwards for our
sport" - which is kind of true, if your idea of a step forward is a giant
leap back into a Valverdian era of appeals and counter appeals.

Apparently Contador was absolved by the Spanish
cycling federation
on article 296 of the UCI regulations which grants freedom
to those riders who can prove they inadvertently ingested a product through no
fault of negligence on their part. The thing is, Contador and his legal team
couldn't actually do this - yet he was still given the benefit of the doubt.

But come, come - the man's had six months of sleepless
nights, tears and tearing his hair out. So give him some slack. Besides, didn't
Saddles read somewhere that article 311 states 'Go easy on riders whose stress
levels are very high' while article 1 succinctly says 'The first rule about
doping is that you don't talk about doping'?

But seriously, it would have taken an extremely
cautious person to keep a corner of the steak he had eaten in Pau on the off
chance that he might have to prove six weeks down the line that it contained
clenbuterol (and plasticisers). Who in their right mind keeps samples of
everything that has passed through their system?

It seems like there was also some mishap over mailing
which may have provided some kind of legal loophole for Alberto too. Gosh, if
all it takes to get off a doping charge is the late delivery of a letter then
why isn't the UK an EPO Eldorado? Maybe that's why the US Postal team had such
an immaculate record.

There was also, lest we forget, the pressure put on
RFEC by the Spanish minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who had tweeted that
"there are no legal grounds for sanctioning Contador".

As Saddles writes, Riccardo Ricco's legal team are
reportedly trying to contact Silvio Berlusconi but to no avail: the Italian Prime
Minister seems to be rather preoccupied at the moment and the phone lines of
his office have nothing but the Kaiser Chiefs song 'Ruby' on repeat.

Old Zapatero may have to have words with his police
force though: the timing of that seizure of EPO and Clenbuterol in Catalonia
doesn't look such good PR anymore.

Interestingly, instead of citing the examples of other
professional cyclists (such as Alessandro Colo and Li Fuyu) banned for using
Clenbuterol - as you might logically expect - the RFEC underlined the example
of a Russian-sounding German table tennis player, who was let off the hook
after eating contaminated food during a tournament in China.

How ironic - for it looks like Contador and the UCI
will be playing ping pong all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport; a
game that will no doubt go on for an eternity.
As one commentator concluded, between them the UCI and
RFEC have taken four and a half months to arrive at pretty much nothing. It's
like the doping equivalent of the interminable final set of that match between
John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in last year's Wimbledon.

Tour de France general director Christian Prudhomme
eloquently summed up the situation this week: "We don't know if we're at
the end of the affair, caught up in the epilogue, or if we're part of a
never-ending soap opera."

So, despite Contador making his Saxo Bank debut this
week to defend his Tour of Algarve title, it appears that the Spaniard is about
as far out of the woods as a Nottinghamshire-based medieval archer with a
penchant for wearing green tights and robbing the rich to give to the poor.

As for Lance - we all knew he was going to retire so
what all the fuss? He's hardly been competitive since his mind was elsewhere.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK: "Of course, I don't know Alberto's
specific case but what I do know is that since 2006 this would have not been
possible and the team has 200 per cent turned the page. For us it's also good
that we keep the win because then the riders pick up their bonuses."
Astana's Alexandre Vinoukorov tells Cyclingnews how it is.

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Saddles throughout the season on

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