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Contador ruling raises more questions than answers

Astana team rider and leader's yellow jersey Alberto Contador of Spain celebrates on the Champs Elysees in Paris after winning the 97th Tour de France cycling race July 25, 2010. Contador won the Tour de France for the third time on Sunday. REUTERS/Christophe Ena/Pool


The test, it would seem, is the thing.

Spanish cycling ace Alberto Contador, the three-time Tour de France winner and suspected doper, had argued he came up positive for the illegal muscle-builder clenbuterol because of a bad steak - an explanation that evidently didn't wash among the scientific types.

If only someone had kept one of the offending pieces of meat in the freezer.

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And so cycling continues the search for a once-in-a-generation competitor who is powered only by naturally-occurring sinew, muscle and over-sized ventricles.

Somewhere in Texas, seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong may have allowed himself a thin smile this morning.

Contador's retroactive two-year suspension, which will see him stripped of his 2010 Tour title - Andy Schleck of Luxembourg will inherit the mantle - came barely 72 hours after Armstrong learned the U.S. government has dropped a criminal investigation into long-running allegations he used illegal drugs.

There is, of course, a difference between thinking and knowing - what is now established in Contador's case (and nevertheless disputed by his allies back home, where he is a superstar) is only suspected, and strongly refuted, in Armstrong's.

The whiff of taint surrounding the American, the most dominant cyclist since Eddy "The Cannibal" Merckx, stems mostly from the say-so of people like Floyd Landis, former Tour winner, convicted doper and ex-teammate-cum-stoolie.

There have also been claims that Armstrong has in fact tested positive in the past, but that the results were covered up - something his vast legal team has stoutly denied.

When it comes to Armstrong, at least for the moment, the most appropriate characterization may be borrowed from a unique verdict in the Scottish justice system: 'not proven.'

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Cyclist and suspected doper is something of a redundant statement - Contador's suspension means that all but two Tour winners since 1995 have been either accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, caught with the stuff in their bloodstream, or copped to using them after retiring.

Hands up everyone who thinks the peloton is cleaner now than it was in Armstrong's day.

The fact that Contador got nailed - despite two years of strident denials - may be considered a blow for the good guys in the fight against doping in sport.

But all it really does is lend credence to an argument that is of no help to cycling or sport in general: they're all doing it.

There's an argument to be made that the game changer would be a positive finding against Armstrong - a message that even the most powerful, richest, most iconic figures in their respective pursuits can expect to be caught.

But until such time as the big game hunters in the World Anti-Doping Agency and their colleagues in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency either succeed in taking down Armstrong or decide to just leave him alone, it remains academic.

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The one thing that does seem clear?

The ruling in Contador's situation, as is often the case with doping offences, raises more questions than it answers.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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