ALBUFEIRA, Portugal (VN) – There are not that many fans that come to watch the five-day Volta ao Algarve, but a good-sized crowd waited outside the Saxo Bank-Sungard team bus Saturday morning to catch a glimpse of Alberto Contador.
The sudden reappearance of Contador in a racing jersey this week seemed to catch everyone by surprise, including Spanish fans, many of whom drove across the border to cheer on their man.
Cries of support filled the air when Contador finally stepped out of the team bus to start Saturday’s fourth stage. “You’re No. 1!” “You’re the champion!” “We’re with you, Alberto!” “Keep your head high!” – those were a few of the words of encouragement for the Spanish rider coming from the mostly-Spanish crowd mingling at the start.
That Contador can count on the support of the Spanish cycling establishment is no surprise.
Contador is now anxiously waiting to see if WADA or the UCI will appeal the Spanish cycling federation’s dramatic ruling this week to clear him of doping charges leveled against him after he tested positive for traces of clenbuterol during last year’s Tour de France.
Contador didn’t speak to journalists before Saturday’s start, but those within the Contador camp are cautiously optimistic that there might not be an appeal.
“We’re encouraged by the Ovtcharov case, we have to see what WADA decides to do,” said Contador spokesman Jacinto Vidarte, referring to WADA’s decision not to appeal a case involving table tennis player Dimitrij Ovtcharov. “They have time to study the ruling. We hope they will support what the Spanish federation ruled.”
Despite calls of favoritism, the Spanish federation’s ruling has been called substantive and fair by many who’ve read it. A Spanish version is already available online for review and Vidarte said translation efforts are underway to release an English version perhaps as soon as this week.
“People who have read the ruling can see that (the disciplinary committee) did their homework,” he said. “We hope that the English version is available online so more people can read it and have a better understanding of the case.”
Vidarte said the Contador legal team is confident in their ability to prove that the clenbuterol entered Contador’s system via food contamination. Lawyers have no idea what to expect from WADA or the UCI, however, but Vidarte said they’re most worried that an appeal might be filed as part of legal strategy to avoid potential backlash from other athletes who have been banned in similar cases.
For now, Contador is simply relieved to be back racing his bike.
“Alberto is happy to be racing again and to be with his teammates,” Vidarte said. “After so many months of incertitude, this comes as a huge relief to him. We’ll see what happens next, but right now, he’s glad just to be racing.”
Contador will have a huge chance to pay back all those who are believing his beef tale in Sunday’s 17km time trial at the Volta ao Algarve. Contador has a chance to win the overall title for the third year in a row, something he’d love to deliver to everyone’s who’s supported him.
““I want to do it well for everyone who has supported me in these months, because there have been days when I wanted absolutely nothing and they have been helping me to get up and go for a bike ride,” Contador said in a press release Saturday. “And I also want to thank Saxo Bank-Sungard Team for the support they are giving me, like all my team mates who are working incredibly well. So I would like to do it well, but to win is very difficult.”