Three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is looking forward to being able to race again after being cleared of doping – but believes he will be "scarred for life" by the whole affair.
Contador was yesterday cleared by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) after testing positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol at last year's Tour de France.
The RFEC's disciplinary committee last month proposed a one-year ban but the Spaniard, who has always maintained his innocence, claiming the substance was in some contaminated meat, appealed against that and has now been given the green light to return to action.
Contador is now able to defend his title at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, which started on Wednesday, and the 28-year-old is looking forward to resuming his career – although he feels the experience of the last few months will stay with him forever.
"It's important (to race again), not only for me, but for my team and all the people who have supported me," he told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser from Portugal.
"I know that I'm not in the best moment of form but I would like to do well."
He added on Veo7 television channel: "I've been through some months that I wouldn't wish on anybody. You'd have to go through it yourself to really know how it feels, but in the end justice and professionalism has prevailed.
"What's hurt me most has been the serious attack on my honour. Terrible things have been said about me and have done me irreparable damage. I now have another scar, which is inside and which will accompany me throughout my life.
"It's been six months of sleepless nights, of pulling my hair out, I've cried with my closest friends, in the face of such a great injustice.
"I couldn't accept any type of sanction because I'm not guilty, I've not done anything illegal and the person I am and my honour would not allow me to accept any type of punishment, even at the risk of a bigger punishment," added Contador, who also rejected any suggestion of the RFEC bowing to media pressure or bias.
"Nobody should think that this decision has been an attack of patriotism on the part of the Federation, this acquittal has been a question of justice," he said.
Contador won the 2010 Tour - his third title after wins in 2007 and 2009 - as an Astana rider, beating Andy Schleck by 39 seconds, but has since agreed a move to Team Saxo Bank-Sungard, who he will represent for this first time this week in Portugal.
The Spaniard's adverse finding for anabolic agent Clenbuterol, reportedly 400 times smaller than the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) are required to detect, was revealed last September - after he had signed for Bjarne Riis' squad - and Contador was provisionally suspended. Clenbuterol can be used to reduce body fat and improve aerobic capacity.
Contador knows yesterday's ruling by the RFEC may not be the end of the matter, though, with the International Cycling Union (UCI) and Wada having the right to challenge the decision with The Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).
The UCI will issue its decision within 30 days of receiving the documentation from the RFEC, while Wada have an additional 21 days on top of that to decide if they want to take matters further.
Contador said: "I'm aware that this is a step that has been taken, it's good and justice has been done. Now the UCI and Wada are those who have to study the resolution and see if they decide to go to Cas. We know this possibility exists and we are working on that, but now I want to focus on the bike."
Asked if he would be racing in May's Giro d'Italia - which he won in 2008 - and the Tour de France in July this year, Contador said: "At the moment we are going to plan the season until the Giro and then we'll see what's most appropriate."
UCI president Pat McQuaid, speaking at the Tour of Oman on Wednesday, said: "I can't give a personal opinion until the whole affair is finished and it's not finished yet.
"We got 35 pages from the Spanish Federation yesterday, which has to be translated and studied, and then we'll discuss it with Wada. We'll wait for the full documentation from the Spanish Federation and then we've got 30 days to decide whether we appeal or not. It's a UCI decision."
McQuaid also criticised Spanish politicians for comments made in the lead-up to the RFEC's announcement yesterday.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defended Contador last week, with a post on the government's Twitter page quoting him as saying "there is no legal reason to sanction Contador".
McQuaid said: "I wasn't surprised when you see it's Spain. Nothing surprises me that comes from Spain. But it's disappointing.
"It's up to sport to police itself. I don't think it should be interfered with by politicians who don't know the full facts of the cases and then make statements that are purely political statements.
"I don't think we can blame the Spanish federation. They've done a good job. I think it (political pressure) is unwarranted and doesn't help. It doesn't help the image of Spain either. It showed that they're biased in supporting their own regardless of what the facts of the case might be," McQuaid was quoted as saying on www.cyclingnews.com.