Paris. A monkey with two left thumbs and a rusty typewriter could write the Tour de France’s recent dope-smeared history, because it does not take a genius to attach a long string of question marks and asterisks to all the dubious and downright discredited results registered at cycling’s premier race over the past 15 years or more.
Sadly, this year, again, may be no exception.
If Alberto Contador wins in Paris on July 24 but then is stripped of this and last year’s title because of the banned muscle-building drug detected 11 months ago in his urine, then it won’t just be the monkey who will be furiously rewriting the record books.
We all, sadly, again, will have to push the “erase” button in our memories and flush away another batch of sporting performances that proved too good to be true.
But as you tune in to the Tour over the next three weeks, wondering whether what you are seeing will soon be rendered moot by a court in Switzerland, tell yourself this: Contador is perfectly entitled to be there while the wheels of justice turn, albeit more slowly than many would like.
You don’t have to approve. You may wish that the Spaniard had opted instead to stay home in Pinto while this mess is sorted out, or that Tour organizers somehow found a way to shove a stick in his spokes.
But it might have been worse. Prizes, placings and titles can be redistributed if the Court of Arbitration for Sport this August or September holds Contador responsible for the clenbuterol that washed through his system at the Tour last year. It wouldn’t be the first time that podiums needed to be rejigged.
Even if the court strips Contador of his 2010 title and whatever result he achieves this year, and even if US federal investigators prove that seven-time champion Lance Armstrong cheated, too, there will still be roadside fans hollering “Vive le Tour!” for many Julys to come. Because the 108-year-old race is more than the mere sum of its champions.
But if Contador sat out this Tour only for the court to clear him in the months ahead, as his own Spanish federation already did in February, then he would have suffered a huge wrong that could never be righted.
If his only mistake in winning last year was to eat a clenbuterol-tainted filet mignon on one of the rest days, which is what he says happened, then that shouldn’t cause him to miss this opportunity to win again.
From the outside, it may look as if this case has dragged unnecessarily. It took cycling’s governing body, the UCI, a month to inform Contador of his positive test and another month before it went public. Spain took what seemed like an age to hear and clear Contador. The UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency then dallied until late March to appeal that Spanish ruling to the CAS.
Finally, a planned CAS hearing in early June that could have settled this whole affair in time for the Tour was pushed back to Aug. 1-3, post-Tour, because Contador’s lawyers wanted more time to prepare.
Again, they were entitled to seek that delay. Contador’s reputation and livelihood are at stake. The science of drug testing is complicated, even more so in this case where the amounts of clenbuterol detected were tiny and where there is evidence that the drug does sometimes leak into the food chain, because farmers illegally use it to bulk up farm animals.
If Contador convinces the court that he consumed the drug inadvertently, the ruling may help other clenbuterol-positive athletes who also blame bad food. So justice must not be rushed.
“I don’t think anybody or any person engaged is at fault,” the WADA’s director general, David Howman, told The Associated Press. “I think it is part of a process that you have to put up with.”
But improve, too.
In the future, perhaps such cases should go straight to the CAS, rather than be argued first at a national level, as happened with the Spaniard.
But, for now, let Contador ride — at least until we need to call again on that monkey.