Contador vows to defend innocence to the end

News from Friday's press conference

Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, on the edge of tears, Friday denied taking performance enhancing drugs and vowed to appeal a one-year ban.

"I will appeal wherever necessary to defend my innocence to the end," he told a news conference at his Saxo's team hotel on the Spanish Balearic island of Majorca.

The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) on Wednesday informed Contador of its recommendation of a one-year suspension for his positive drugs test from the 2010 Tour de France. But left it to the discretion of the three-time Tour de France champion as to whether he made it public.

The 28-year-old rider has 10 days to appeal, but faces becoming only the third Tour de France champion to be stripped of his title, after American Floyd Landis in 2006 and Maurice Garin in 1904.

"In these 10 days I have, I will do everything I can with my lawyers to see justice done," Contador said. "I am an example for many people. I know what I am exposing myself to and for that reason I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs. I can say it openly and clearly and with my head held high, I consider myself an example of (drug) cleanliness."

Contador, wearing a white-and-grey collared sweatshirt and flanked by his spokesman and team chief, appeared repeatedly to be close to tears and his voice often was close to breaking. Asked whether he would quit the sport, he replied: "Right now, I don't think so."

The rider denies any wrongdoing and says he unknowingly ingested trace elements of clenbuterol from beef brought from Spain to France during the second rest day of the Tour. Clenbuterol was banned by the European Union in 1996, but it is still administered illicitly by some cattle farmers.

"The only mistake I have made has been to eat meat without analyzing it beforehand to see if contained clenbuterol," Contador said. The rule under which he is being punished despite mistakenly ingested elements of clenbuterol was "obsolete," and out of line with science and modern anti-doping systems, he said.

Contador said it was "shameful" that the proposed punishment should have leaked to the press before he announced it himself. "Today is a sad day, truly sad for me. It is a day in which I have a great disappointment," he said, criticizing what he said were deficiencies of the sport and its anti-doping system.

Bjarne Riis, owner of team Saxo, said his team would continue to support Contador: "If this is a case of intake by accident we cannot stop our support of Alberto and for this I have the full support of our sponsors," he said. It was important to distinguish between people who deliberately cheat and those who intake a drug by accident, he added.

The International Cycling Union had provisionally suspended Contador in August in advance of a decision on his immediate future by the REFC after the clenbuterol, a banned weight loss/muscle-building drug also used to fatten cattle, were detected.

Contador was provisionally suspended on August 24, 2010 after being informed by the UCI of his positive test. If taken from this date and suspended one year Contador would miss the Tour de France, the Tour of Italy and probably the Tour of Spain in 2011.

© AFP 2011

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