Three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain, who was suspended Thursday after failing a dope test, blamed the positive result on contaminated meat, in an emotional protest of his innocence.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) earlier Thursday announced said that the cycling superstar had been provisionally suspended after a minute trace of clenbuterol, a banned substance, was detected in a urine sample taken from the Spaniard on July 21.
"It's a case of food contamination to which I was the victim," Contador, who appeared tense and at times on the verge of tears, told a news conference in a hotel in his hometown of Pinto, outside Madrid.
Contador, who won his third yellow jersey at the end of July's three-week epic, said he ingested the tiny amount of clenbuterol in meat that had eaten both the day before and the day of the control.
He said the meat came from Spain, but did not say specifically where it was bought. Contador said he was the only one to have been tested among the riders who ate the meat.
The 27-year-old, one of only a handful of riders to have won the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Tour of Spain, said the UCI informed him of the positive test on August 24, and two days later he spoke "at length" with the UCI medical team "about how it all happened".
"The UCI itself affirmed in front of me that it was a case of food contamination," he said.
"This is a genuine mistake, it's sad that a sport such as this ... is involved in things like this.
"I think that this will be resolved in a clear way, with the truth up front." The UCI "understands that is a special case, which has to be examined."
The rider said he was "sad and disappointed, but with my head held high."
"I have been through this for a month a half, without sleeping." He said he had not even told his own family "because I prefer that they don't suffer and I that I alone suffer."
A banned substance which can be used to help lose weight and help breathing, clenbuterol is also known to boost performance by helping to increase strength.
Contador said the tiny amount detected in his body "is completely insignificant" in terms of helping his performance in the Tour.
He said the UCI is in talks with the World Anti Doping Agency "to see if the system can be revised."
The UCI said clenbuterol was detected in a urine sample taken from the Spaniard on July 21, during the second rest day in Pau at the foot of the French Pyrenees and four days before he won his third Tour de France title.
But world cycling's ruling body said that only a "very small concentration" of the drug had been found and that the case warranted "further scientific investigation" because the Cologne laboratory that detected the substance is known to be able to detect the tiniest traces of drugs.
"The concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms which is 400 times less than what the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) must be able to detect," the UCI said, adding that testing of a second "B" sample taken at the same time confirmed the result.
There are a trillion picograms in a gram.
The day after the July test, Contador took a huge step towards an overall win by finishing in the same time as main rival Andy Schleck of Luxembourg at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet.
At the penultimate stage time trial on July 24 he secured victory with a 39-second lead on Schleck.
Although a banned substance, positive tests for clenbuterol have resulted in different outcomes for athletes in the past.
It has been shown in the past that trace elements of the drug found in the human body can be attributed to food contamination. If it is found in larger amounts it usually points to deliberate doping.
Chinese rider Fuyu Li, who races with Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team, was also provisionally suspended after testing positive for clenbuterol in April.
He was later given support by a Dutch anti-doping expert, Douwe de Boer, who said the amount found in his body points "clearly in the direction of a contamination" and that such a low dose would not help his performance.
Tour de France organisers said they had learned about the adverse analytical finding through the UCI's statement on Thursday morning, but could take no action on the race champion as yet.
A statement from race owners ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) said: "The UCI has indicated that further scientific investigation, with the support of the World Anti Doping Agency, is needed.
"No action can be taken until this process has been completed."
© AFP 2010