Spain's cycling federation found "with a high degree of probability" that three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador ate drug-contaminated meat and was therefore not negligent, according to extracts of its report leaked on Wednesday.
Contador tested positive for minute traces of the banned substance clenbuterol during last July's Tour de France.
But the 28-year-old has repeatedly denied knowingly taking any banned substances, blaming the result on a steak he says was contaminated with traces of the muscle-building drug.
"The minimal amount detected could not presume an improvement in sporting performance," the Spanish cycling federation's report said, according to extracts published in the sports daily AS.
"In previous days the results of the analyses were negative," the federation was quoted as saying in its report, which was communicated to Contador but not publicly released.
In the report, the federation said it took into account that there was no sign in the racer's biological passport of blood transfusions and that he had been clear in dozens of analyses throughout the season.
"This brings us to the conclusion that with a high degree of probability the positive detected was a consequence of the consumption of contaminated meat, an act which cannot be assumed or considered as negligent conduct."
The decision to clear Contador marked an about-turn for Spain's cycling federation, whose competition committee last month had recommended a one-year ban for Contador, a ruling that would have stripped him of his 2010 Tour de France title.
The rider has drawn high-profile support, including from Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero who said Thursday "there is no legal reason to sanction Contador".
But the federation head has said this had no impact on their final decision in the case.
The International Cycling Union, the sport's world governing body, and the World Anti-Doping Agency have a month to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland, which would have the final word.
The federation's decision means Contador, who joined Saxo Bank from Astana shortly after his third Tour win, is free to compete for the first time for his new team. He will ride in the Tour of Algarve which gets underway Wednesday in southern Portugal.
Clenbuterol is a banned weight loss/muscle-building drug which is also used to increase lean meat in cattle. The substance was banned by the European Union in 1996 but it is still administered illicitly by some cattle farmers.
© AFP 2011