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‘Caso Contador’ wraps up testimony Thursday

Lawyers from both sides of "caso Contador" presented their closing arguments Thursday

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Lawyers from both sides of “caso Contador” presented their closing arguments Thursday to end four days of testimony in Alberto Contador’s long-running, high-profile clenbuterol doping case.

After three intense, 10-hour sessions filled with expert testimony, a three-member panel heard conclusions from Contador’s legal team, on one side, arguing that traces of clenbuterol entered the 2010 Tour winner’s system due to contaminated meat, while lawyers representing WADA and the UCI, on the other side, argued that Contador underwent illegal blood transfusions.

Contador’s fate now lies in the hands of a three-member panel sitting on the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the final adjudicator in doping cases.

A decision isn’t likely until early 2012, but there’s plenty at stake for both sides of the appeal.

Contador — who was cleared by the Spanish cycling federation in February — is facing a possible two-year ban and disqualification of his 2010 Tour crown, not to mention what would be a devastating blow to his prestige if found guilty.

WADA, with the support of the UCI, decided to press forward with the appeal despite pulling back from other recent clenbuterol cases involving positives among athletes who popped positive in such places as China and Mexico.

The argument that eating meat laced with clenbuterol — which is fed to livestock to lean up beef before slaughter — has been gaining traction following a recent spate of cases, but WADA attorneys felt there was enough compelling evidence to suggest a blood transfusion was behind Contador’s positive test dating back to the second rest day of the 2010 Tour.

Contador, back from his recent honeymoon, was present every day during the four-day hearing and testified on his behalf Wednesday afternoon, with Spanish reports putting the Spanish rider in front of the three-member panel for about 30 minutes. Wire reports had Contador speaking once again Thursday before the panel.

According to leaks reported in the Spanish media, Contador denied cheating.

“I did not dope,” Contador reportedly told the panel. “I am one of the most controlled athletes on the planet. I have passed more than 100 controls since 2008 and 16 during the past Giro. … I am also very careful about everything I take.”

A major piece of Contador’s defense promoted by his legal team was evidence taken from a lie-detector test he underwent in the United States. Attorneys argue that Contador was telling the truth when he said he did not dope en route to his 2010 Tour victory.

How much credibility that test – conducted by a American named Louis Rovner paid for by Contador’s defense – will have among the three-member deciding his fate remains to be seen.

Contador’s legal team has also been working hard to try to eliminate other theories on how clenbuterol might have entered his system, among them the idea that the anabolic might have come from a contaminated diet or nutritional supplement.

Lawyers said Contador takes no supplements that are not vigorously screened to make sure there are no banned substances nor ingests products that are not prescribed by a licensed physician.

Also appearing late Wednesday were Benjamin Noval and Paolo Tiralongo, then Astana teammates of Contador in 2010, who testified that they shared the same “solomillo” dinner as Contador. Neither were controlled by anti-doping controllers, but lawyers wanted to bring forward their testimony to bolster the argument of the tainted beef theory.

CAS officials said a decision is not expected until early 2012.

If cleared, Contador will be vindicated and will resume racing early in 2012, with his eyes set on returning triumphant to the Tour de France.

If found guilty, Contador will face up to a two-year ban and the humiliation of becoming just the second racer to have his Tour victory stripped due to a doping positive.

There’s also the question of when a possible ban would begin if Contador is found guilty.

In previous cases, CAS has been inconsistent in its interpretation of rules when a ban would begin. Because Contador was cleared by a legal authority when the Spanish cycling federation allowed him to return to racing in February, one idea is that any ban might not begin until CAS releases its decision. That would mean that Contador would lose his 2010 Tour victory, but keep his wins during 2011, and serve a racing ban going forward.

The other scenario is that a ban would begin pegged to the 2010 Tour, meaning that result sheets would have to be rejigged for not only the 2010 Tour, but also the 2011 Giro d’Italia and other races he won this year, including the Vuelta a Murcia and the Volta a Catalunya.