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Just days before a ruling is expected in the long-running clenbuterol case of Alberto Contador, RadioShack-Nissan-Trek founder Flavio Becca questioned what he suggested might be improper links between Contador’s Saxo Bank team and Israel.
Becca questioned whether it’s just coincidental that Saxo Bank held a pre-season camp in Israel in late November when one of the three judges presiding over the Court of Arbitration for Sport panel is Israeli attorney Efraim Barak.
“When I saw that there’s an Israeli judge that’s on the commission being called up to decide, I think that’s a bad start,” Becca was quoted saying in La Quotidien. “His team went to Israel for a training camp and had the added bonus of a reception by the government. I am honest, I have nothing to hide.”
Becca’s comments seemed to suggest that Saxo Bank is somehow trying to influence the outcome of Contador’s pending doping case. There was no immediate reaction from Contador or Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis.
Saxo Bank became the first major European bike team to head to Israel for a training camp, visiting the country from nearly two weeks in late November and early December.
Part of the team’s activities including visiting local schools as well as the conducting the team’s traditional team-building camp. There is no evidence that the team has had any contact with Efraim.
Becca, who last year rarely spoke to the media, seemed keen to press the issue.
“I think the game is over,” Becca said, suggesting that Contador will get off without charges. “You cannot have on one side the team visiting Israel and have the judge being from Israel. I think I’m right.”
Barak is the president of a three-member panel deciding Contador’s fate. Also sitting on the board are Ullrich Haas of Germany and Quentin Byrne-Sutton of Switzerland.
Under CAS rules, each protagonist has the right to nominate one judge. Contador’s camp designated Haas while the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency appointed Byrne-Sutton.
Barak, a lawyer with offices in Tel Aviv, has served on several CAS cases, many of them contract disputes and one that included bans for Russian biathletes who tested positive for EPO.
Contador is facing up to a two-year ban and disqualification of his 2010 Tour de France victory if CAS rules against him.
One of Becca’s star riders, Andy Schleck, told VeloNews on Friday that he would accept the 2010 Tour victory if CAS bans Contador.
“If they are going to suspend them, then for me, it’s a right decision. It’s not a lunatic sitting there, they are educated people there, making those decisions,” Schleck said. “On the other hand, if he is free, he didn’t do anything wrong, and I believe it. I believe that the decision coming out of CAS is the correct one.”
Becca, meanwhile, said he’s excited at the prospect of Johan Bruyneel taking over the reigns of the team for 2012.
“He’s the Mourinho of cycling,” Becca said, referring to the Real Madrid soccer coach. “He will like that comparison, but it’s true.”