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Tamaño letra

Contador fleshes out his defense

Tribunal hears conflicting testimony over plausibility of "tainted meat" theory

Alberto Contador, seated on one side of the table, to the left of the three arbitrators, in front of the three lawyers for the prosecution, did not miss a single second of Monday's first session of deliberations, which lasted a little over five hours. Neither will he be absent during the sessions between now and Thursday at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Under its gaze Contador's honor and virtue will be decided. The hearing will also revisit the 2010 Tour de France, where Contador scored his third victory at the event, a victory the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Cycling Union believe he should be stripped of after he returned a urine sample containing traces of the banned substance clenbuterol there. But, more than heroics on two wheels, the talk here will be centered on livestock, slaughterhouses and farmers.

To this curious subject more than 30 people dedicated their time and expertise on Monday, mostly lawyers but also scientific experts, a private detective from Madrid and a Basque butcher.

Three of the five scheduled witnesses testified on the first day of the hearing: Javier López, the director of Asoprovac, the Spanish association of cattle farmers; Xavier Zabaleta, the butcher from Irún who sold the meat; and César Martín, a detective hired by Contador to trace the origins of the suspect steak.

- The prosecution

Based on a scientific study, the WADA argues the possibility of a cow in Castilla y León being fattened with clenbuterol is 0.0065 percent. Although the steak was bought in Irún, in the Basque Country, the AMA report refers to Castilla y León because its investigations establish the cow was reared in Pedraza de Alba (Salamanca) and slaughtered in Fuentesaúco (Zamora). The WADA also stated that 143 cases of illegal fattening with clenbuterol were detected from 1999 to 2002, and just four from 2003 to 2009.

The prosecution's theory is that Contador followed a course of injections of 200 micrograms of clenbuterol for three weeks and then his blood was extracted and through apheresis, the plasma was divided from the red blood cells. Several weeks later 200 milliliters of plasma was reinjected. If a person weighing 66 kilos urinates every three hours and a little over a liter a day, 12 to 24 hours after the reinfusion, around 50 picograms of clenbuterol would be present, the quantity found in Contador.

- The defense

Contador's own pharmacokinetic study refutes the prosecution theory completely, pointing especially to the elevated level of toxicity that would be present in a person who had injected clenbuterol for three weeks. The cyclist's defense also emphasizes that for an athlete who undergoes as many tests as Contador - 32 in the seven months before the 2010 Tour - taking a banned substance for three consecutive weeks would be sheer folly. The study also questions WADA's calculation of the amount Contador urinates during competition, based on mid-Tour controls; WADA says 1.172 liters but Contador's team says he urinates as much as two liters. In the report, Contador himself states that if he only fills three-quarters of a sample container, it is for hygienic reasons. In 112 experiments using the WADA data, Tomás Martín Jiménez of the University of Tennessee found no scenario in which 50 picograms of clenbuterol could have been detected.

The other main component of Contador's defense is Sheila Bird, a biostatistician and a world authority on mad cow disease who painted a bleak panorama of health controls in the European meat industry. According to Bird, and based on EU and Spanish regional data, only 900 of every one million cattle are tested before sale in Europe. Therefore, it can be affirmed that 99 percent of beef consumed in Spain has not been through any checks. According to Contador, a brother of the Salamancan farmer who raised the animal had previously been implicated in a case of illegal fattening with clenbuterol.