GENEVA (AP) — Three days after U.S. prosecutors dropped their investigation of doping claims against Lance Armstrong, fellow Tour de France champion Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 title when sports’ highest court rejected the Spanish cyclist’s story that contaminated meat caused him to fail a drug test.
The 29-year-old Contador, who also won the Tour in 2007 and ‘09, tested positive for clenbuterol during a Tour rest day in July 2010. Contador’s ban was backdated to Jan. 25, 2011 — making him eligible to return on Aug. 6.
“Unlike certain other countries, notably outside Europe, Spain is not known to have a contamination problem with clenbuterol in meat,” the Court of Arbitration for Sport said in its ruling. “Furthermore, no other cases of athletes having tested positive to clenbuterol allegedly in connection with the consumption of Spanish meat are known.”
Contador had been thought likely to challenge Armstrong’s record of seven career Tour victories. Instead, he joins Floyd Landis as the only riders stripped of their Tour titles after testing positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs. Andy Schleck of Luxembourg is now in line to take Contador’s 2010 title.
The CAS verdict in Lausanne, Switzerland, was delivered 566 days after Contador cycled triumphantly along the Champs d’Elysees in Paris.
The ruling came after Armstrong’s own lengthy legal fight ended Friday, with U.S. federal authorities dropping an investigation into alleged doping involving his Tour teams.
Cycling’s governing body, which had joined the World Anti-Doping Agency in forcing Contador into court, said it took no satisfaction from upholding its fight against drug cheats.
“This is a sad day for our sport,” International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid said in a statement. “Some may think of it as a victory, but that is not at all the case. There are no winners when it comes to the issue of doping: every case, irrespective of its characteristics, is always a case too many.”
The case had been expected to pit Contador’s meat contamination defense against a UCI-WADA argument that the drug was present in the cyclist’s system because he had used banned blood transfusions.
Yet a three-man CAS panel seemed to reach its own conclusion, finding that the presence of clenbuterol, which is sometimes used by farmers to fatten their livestock, was more likely caused by a contaminated food supplement.
The CAS ruling upheld appeals by the UCI and WADA, which challenged a Spanish cycling tribunal’s decision last year to exonerate Contador.
To avoid a doping ban, Contador needed to prove how the anabolic drug entered his body and convince the arbitrators he was not to blame.
Spain’s national association of cattle farmers said it had been vindicated by the CAS ruling after having “come under scrutiny following false accusations.”
For WADA, Monday’s verdict offered vindication in the wake of the Armstrong case, which was perceived as a stinging defeat for the anti-doping community. “This is an appropriate decision from CAS which represents the effective nature of the World Anti-Doping Code,” WADA President John Fahey said.
Contador will miss the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the London Olympics, but can ride in the Spanish Vuelta, which begins Aug. 18.
He will be stripped of all results from races in which he participated since Jan. 25, 2011 — the day the Spanish federation proposed a one-year ban. That period includes his Giro d’Italia victory last season.
Contador, one of only five cyclists to win the three Grand Tours, had no immediate comment. He is scheduled to hold a news conference Tuesday in his home town of Pinto, near Madrid.
He could yet appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.
If Contador appeals to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, the court can decide the legal process was abused but would not examine the merits of the evidence. A federal appeal process typically takes several months, though the court rarely overrules CAS.
The four-day CAS hearing in November almost ended in chaos as lawyers for the UCI and WADA considered walking out when the panel chairman, Israeli lawyer Efraim Barak, prevented one of their expert witnesses from being questioned about the science of blood doping and transfusions.
The sports bodies were also unhappy with how Spanish authorities had conducted the case in its early stages, after the UCI publicly announced in September 2010 it had provisionally suspended Contador pending an investigation by Spain’s cycling federation.
Contador was originally cleared last February by the Spanish tribunal, which rejected a recommendation to impose a one-year ban. Days earlier, then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Twitter that there was no reason to punish the rider, who is idolized in his country.
“It is regrettable there was some political interference at the first instance process from Spain which inevitably led to the appeal,” Fahey said Monday.
Contador could also face financial pain at world sport’s highest court of appeal: CAS said it would rule later on a request by the UCI to fine him $3.25 million.
Armstrong and Contador combined to win nine of the 11 Tours from 1999-2009, but Schleck seems reluctant to take his place alongside them.
“There is no reason to be happy now,” Schleck said in a statement issued by his team, RadioShack Nissan Trek. “First of all I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. I battled with Contador in that race and I lost.”