Contador returns from doping ban in Benelux

Spaniard is back to racing after six-month forced vacation and is setting his sites on his home country races

THE HAGUE (AFP) — Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador made his comeback from a two-year doping ban during the first stage of the Tour of Benelux on Monday.

The week-long Tour of the Low Countries — known officially as the Eneco Tour — began on August 6, the very day that Contador’s ban expired.

“I’m happy to be back,” said Contador, who was banned for testing positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.

Contador had blamed his positive test on a contaminated steak that he ate during that year’s Tour, one of three editions of the race that he won. He was stripped of his 2010 Tour win and the ban ruled him out of this year’s Olympics. The UCI erased Contador’s results between July 2010 and February 6, 2012, the date the Court of Arbitration for Sport sanctioned the Spaniard. He sat out racing for just six months, but the stripped results dated his ban back to 2010.

“I’ve put a difficult time behind me. Fortunately I’ve always been able to count on my family and friends,” said the Spaniard. “What has marked me is the powerlessness that I felt faced with the decision makers.

“Tests are necessary, but the loopholes in the rules need to be filled. I’m not looking for revenge — being back on my bicycle is my only desire. I want to feel happy again as a rider.”

Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won the first stage of the race between Waalwijk and Middelburg in the southern Netherlands after a sprint finish ahead of Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat) and American Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing).

A number of big-name sprinters were caught up in a crash that hit the peleton with two kilometres to go.

Contador, who failed to finish among the leaders, plans to take part in the Clasica de San Sebastian next week before the Vuelta a España, and is targeting a place on the Spain team at next month’s world championships in the Netherlands.