Thursday 16 June 2011

Contador confirms

Alberto Contador, the winner of last year's Tour de France who looked set to miss the race this year after failing a dope test in which a "very small" amount of the banned bronchodilator Clenbuterol was found to be present in his sample, has confirmed that he will be taking part this year.

A German laboratory discovered the trace on the 21st of June 2010, towards the end of the Tour, leading to a suspension pending further investigation by the UCI as the testing procedure used is not recognised by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the amount found some 40 times lower than would usually be considered cause for concern. However, the Spaniard proclaimed his innocence and, following the publication of expert opinion that the food contamination explanation he gave was likely to be correct, was allowed to keep his title - his third Tour victory in four years. A one-year ban proposed by the Spanish cycling federation was dropped in January, leaving him free to take part in the Volta ao Algarve in which he took fourth place, crossing the line 41" after winner Tony Martin.

Schleck (in yellow) doubtless utters a few naughty words as his chain snaps in the 2010 Tour de France. Controversially, Contador (just behind him) didn't wait for the 39 seconds it took for the problem to be fixed - the exact same time by which he eventually won the overall classification.
Andy Schleck, the Luxembourgish Leopard Trek rider who seemed to spend most of the 2010 Tour hanging onto Contador's back wheel with an expression that seemed to say "I can't quite get you this year, but next year I'll be stronger" ready every time he looked over his shoulder, says his rival's return comes as no surprise.

"Honestly, I'm happy," he told L'Equipe. "I want to beat him on the road and that's what I've prepared for. I've studied the stages and I love the route."

The 2011 route looks set to favour climbers and punish sprinters, which means anyone who wants to challenge Contador's supremacy is in for a harsh time: the wiry 28-year-old is a spectacular climber - his 2009 ascent of the Hors-Categorie Verbier is recorded as the fastest climb in Tour de France history (and which led, unsurprisingly, to more allegations of skullduggery - most notably from Greg LeMond); but if we go on Schleck's performance last year when it looked for a while (until his chain broke during a dramatic Stage 15 attack and Contador gained a controversial 39" lead) like he might just take the race, he's the man most likely to succeed. He seems to be holding back a bit in the Tour de Suisse at the moment, allowing older brother Frank to beat him, but whether this is due to a lack of form or simply because he's taking things easy is impossible to say: another chain incident in the Stage 1 time trial saw him finish in 147th place and he may just not consider the effort and risk of riding as hard as would be necessary to make up that kind of gap worthwhile with the Tour less than three weeks away. He certainly seems confident and there's every chance that Contador is more worried than he is.

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