PINTO, SPAIN // Alberto Contador, the three-time Tour de France champion, blamed contaminated steak yesterday for his positive doping test, vowing to clear his name and not let cycling's latest drug scandal "destroy everything that I have done".
The Spanish rider was provisionally suspended after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lab in Germany found a "very small concentration" of the banned substance clenbuterol in his urine sample on July 21 at the Tour, according the international cycling federation.
"It is a clear case of food contamination," Contador told a news conference in his hometown near Madrid, during which several times he appeared close to tears. "I am sad and disappointed but hold my head high." "I think this is going to be resolved in a clear way," he added.
"With the truth behind you, you can speak loud and clear, and I am confident justice will prevail."
Contador said the beef was brought across the border from Spain to France during a rest day during the Tour at the request of the team's cook.
Contador said the beef was brought by a Spanish cycling organiser, Jose Luis Lopez Cerron. Cerron said earlier on Spanish radio that he was a friend of the team chef, who had complained of poor quality meat at the hotel where the team was staying.
Lopez Cerron said he bought filet mignon for the team in the Spanish border town of Irun on his way to Pau, France. Contador said he ate the meat on July 20 and again on July 21. He called his suspension by the UCI "a true mistake".
Clenbuterol is at times given to cows and pigs to increase their growth rate.
"The idea of anyone questioning my Tour victory does not worry me," Contador said. "I am not going to let something like this destroy everything I have done."
Contador beat Andy Schleck of Luxembourg by 39 seconds in winning his third Tour in four years. "What a crazy day in cycling with the news about Contador," Schleck said on Twitter. "I only heard about it in the press. I hope he is innocent and I think he deserves the right to defend himself now."
The allegations are the latest to hit a sport whose credibility has been battered by doping scandals.
Within hours of Contador's case becoming public, the UCI announced that two Spanish riders failed drug tests during the Spanish Vuelta in September - runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera and David Garcia.
The UCI said they tested positive for hydroxyethyl starch, which increases blood volume. The UCI said the amount of clenbuterol in Contador's sample was "400 time[s] less than what the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA must be able to detect."
Both Contador's A and B samples tested positive, and the cyclist has been "formally and provisionally suspended," the UCI said. With Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour champion, now back in retirement, Contador is cycling's biggest star, so it could be devastating for the sport if the Spanish rider is found to have cheated.
The UCI's statement gave no indication of whether Contador will be stripped of his latest Tour title or be banned. "The UCI continues working with the scientific support of WADA to analyse all the elements that are relevant to the case. This further investigation may take some more time," it said.
If Tour officials strip Contador of his title, he would be just the second cyclist so punished. The first was American Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title after a positive test.
For years, Landis denied doping but admitted this spring that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Having invested millions of dollars in recent years in what is widely regarded as one of the most stringent anti-doping regimes anywhere, cycling authorities hoped to be turning the corner on widespread doping by riders that had long made a mockery of the sport and repeatedly sullied the Tour, its showpiece race.
Although just 27, Contador is already the greatest rider of his generation. His victories at the Tour starting in 2007 and at other major races were seen as a possible break from cycling's dirty past.
"This is serious and this case needs to be clarified," Pierre Bordry, the outgoing leader of France's anti-doping agency, told RTL radio. "Clenbuterol is a forbidden substance, whatever the amount which is detected. If they really found it, it's forbidden."
* Associated Press
What is Clenbuterol?
It is a central nervous system stimulant. It is not a steroid but does have anabolic properties that build muscle while burning fat, and it is prohibited.
How is it used?
In the field of medicine, it is used to treat asthma. In fact, it is even commonly given to horses to treat breathing problems.
What does it do?
In similar ways to stimulant drugs such as amphetamine or ephedrine, it can increase the heart rate and body temperature.