Contador delay opens door to Argentina, but could close it for Tour

The latest delay could torpedo a slim chance Contador had to race in the 2012 Tour de France

The never-ending saga of Alberto Contador’s long-running clenbuterol case saw yet another delay Monday, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced a pending ruling would not be released until the end of January.

That delay, like others before it, has opened another door for Contador to continue racing while a three-member CAS panel ponders the Spanish rider’s fate.

With his fate still undecided, Contador will be able to make his planned season debut at the Tour de San Luís in Argentina later this month (January 23-29).

Since the Spanish cycling federation cleared him of clenbuterol charges in February 2011, Contador has made the most of openings created by the back-room wheeling and dealing between lawyers on both sides that has pushed back a scheduled June hearing to August to all the way into November.

That allowed Contador to make an unexpected appearance in the 2011 Tour despite facing up to a two-year ban and disqualification from his 2010 Tour victory after testing positive for traces of clenbuterol on a rest-day control in the Pyrénées.

The latest delay, however, could torpedo a slim chance Contador had to race in the 2012 Tour de France even if he was handed down a racing ban.

One scenario making the rounds is that CAS will deliver a reduced, one-year ban, similar to what the Spanish federation initially proposed in January last year before later deciding to completely clear Contador of all charges.

In that scenario, Contador might have been able to still race this year’s Tour based on two conditions: first, that CAS pegs the start of a racing from the date of the initial positive (July 21, 2010), and second, that CAS “discounts” Contador’s ban for days that he did not race from the 2010 Tour until his return with the 2011 Volta ao Algarve in mid-February.

Under that scenario, had CAS released its decision in mid-January as initially expected, Contador would have still had time to “serve” a reduced racing ban and possibly make it under the wire to still race this year’s Tour.

The latest delay, however, means that door to the 2012 Tour is all but closed even if CAS did hand down a “discounted,” reduced ban. The door would remain open for a possible start in the 2012 Vuelta a España, under that scenario.

CAS, however, has other options about when to begin any possible ban. CAS has been inconsistent on when it applies sanctions and it could also peg the date to when Contador was officially notified (August 24) or from when the UCI publicly verified the case (September 30).

A longer, two-year ban without a “discount” would mean that Contador could miss both the 2012 and the 2013 Tours.

That final question of when to peg any possible ban and whether to “discount” his ban could well be the final point of controversy in what’s been an already highly contentious case.

Contador could be completely cleared and could continue racing without missing a step.