So, it's official: The 2010 Tour de France results will remain unofficially unofficial when the 2011 edition of the race begins on July 2.
This giant, spreading asterisk is brought to you by Alberto Contador's legal team. Aided and abetted by the completely illogical decision of Spanish cycling authorities to accept their rider's unprovable explanation of food contamination for his clenbuterol positive test during last year's Tour, the lawyers have managed to get Contador back in the saddle and keep him there. Not surprisingly, they're trying to extend their streak and his.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport assented to the request of Contador's lawyers to postpone consideration of the appeals brought by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union. Those hearings, originally set for June 6-8, are now slated for Aug. 1-3.
The 2011 Tour will be in the books by then, in pencil at least, along with the 2011 Giro d'Italia. Contador dominated that race against a relatively weak field and won by more than six minutes. That makes six straight three-week Grand Tours entered since July 2007 and an equal number of notches cut into the gun handle by El Pistolero.
Contador is indisputably talented on the bike and had the mental toughness to withstand a psychological wrestling match over Astana team leadership from Lance Armstrong. The past few months have shown us that Contador is also very good at playing with house money. He has taken full advantage of this interlude when he should have been suspended and seems impervious to the scrutiny and the critics. Many will favor him to win the Tour in July.
Then we'll see if CAS will do what no rider has been able to do in the mountain roads of western Europe for the past four years -- drop Contador. From the record books, that is. If he loses on appeal, three Grand Tour victories could be scrubbed, along with a lot of race scenarios that can never be re-enacted for the other contenders.
The Tour organizers could try to keep Contador off the start line, but race director Christian Prudhomme has already indicated they won't. Contador would surely appeal, and cycling would blunder down another hallway of mirrors right back to CAS, which would find itself hearing the appeal of the competitive issue prompted by its decision to delay the appeal on the testing issue. You follow?
Contador's lawyers are simply doing what they are allowed to do procedurally, and the CAS timetable isn't unusual. "To think they could have done it expediently was probably wishful thinking," said Los Angeles-based lawyer Howard Jacobs, who has handled a similar case. "Big doping cases take a long time, especially when they're science-based." And especially if either WADA or the UCI plans to introduce evidence related to transfusions via a test for plasticizers, which would be precedent-setting.
In theory, anti-doping justice is blind to the interests of any particular sport or event. Thus the fact the Tour de France start looms a month away shouldn't have an impact on when Contador's case is heard. But in practice, the fact the process won't be complete by the time the Tour starts could gum up the timing mechanism of a race that is simply supposed to honor the man who travels fastest from point A to point B.