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New year resolutions needed for cycling's big issues

Day three. How many resolutions have survived the testing early days of the new year?

Did the rain shatter pledges to ride every weekend? Has an irresistible bargain in the January sales destroyed promises to spend less on cycling in 2012? Were the remnants of the festive After Eight supply consumed in violation of a commitment to cut back on chocolate?

Of course, resolutions are not limited to January 1, and in the scandal hit/vigilant world (take your pick) of professional cycling, two of the most significant resolutions affecting the sport in the coming weeks and months.

2012 will witness final judgements from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on the Alberto Contador-clenbuterol affair and on the World Anti-Doping Association’s (WADA) dispute with the British Olympic Association (BOA) over the latter’s by-law barring athletes who have served a suspension for doping from selection: a decision that could have implications for David Millar and Great Britain’s Olympic road race squad.

Alberto Contador

CAS is due to rule in January on Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour De France

A definitive verdict in the seemingly endless saga surrounding Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol, given on the second rest day of the 2010 Tour De France, is finally due in January when CAS will rule on an appeal from the UCI and WADA against a decision made last February by the Spanish Cycling Federation to absolve the six-time Grand Tour winner.

In clearing Contador (who has always maintained his innocence, claiming that the minute trace of clenbuterol had entered his blood stream after he ate a contaminated steak) the Spanish Cycling Federation overturned a one-year suspension it had proposed just two weeks earlier. Six weeks later, by the end of March 2011, both the UCI and WADA had filed appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the Spanish Cycling Federation’s decision. UCI president, Pat McQuaid, insisted that his organisation’s appeal was not based on a presumption of Contador’s guilt, but had been made in the interests of securing a decision free from outside influence. McQuaid cited a ‘Tweet’ from the office of Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, made between the Federation’s proposed suspension and its volte-face, declaring “there is no judicial reason to sanction Contador.”

Despite announcing on March 31 an intention to rule on the case before the end of June, or to put it another way, before the start of the 2011 Tour De France, CAS accepted numerous appeals from all participants for extra time to prepare their cases, and delayed the hearing three times from June 6, to August 1, and, finally, to November 21. In the interim, Contador won the Giro d’Italia, and finished fifth in the Tour De France. The appeal was finally heard last November, and closed with a presentation from Contador. The decision is expected between January 15 and 20.

Regardless of the conclusion now delivered by CAS, cycling has been damaged by a drawn out investigation involving its brightest star. Commentators are divided on the issue, with some arguing that the decision of the Spanish Cycling Federation absolves an athlete of responsibility for what enters his body, while others, notably David Millar, have criticized a culture they claim presumes guilt. The delivery of a definitive outcome from Lausanne before another season gets into full swing can only help the sport.

David Millar, WADA, and the British Olympic Association

David Millar has represented Great Britain admirably since returning from a doping suspension in 2006

Cycling’s interest in the dispute between WADA and the BOA centres on the implications for David Millar, a debate that returned last week to the top of the news agenda following Mark Cavendish’s pronouncement that a ‘redeemed’ Millar should be allowed to represent his country at this year’s London Games.

Millar returned to the sport in 2006 after serving a two-year suspension, and has since pursued an anti-doping stance has made him one of the most respected members of the WorldTour peloton and a member of WADA’s Athlete Committee.

He has also delivered superb performances for Team GB, winning silver at the world time trial championships in 2010, and serving as road captain to the Team GB squad that delivered Mark Cavendish to victory at the world road race championships in Copenhagen.

But under the BOA’s policy of lifetime bans from selection for Olympic competition for British athletes who have served doping suspensions, Millar is prevented from representing Great Britain at the London Games.

One month after Millar and co’s magnificent ride, CAS overturned the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 45, the so-called ‘Osaka Rule’ that prohibited athletes who had served a suspension of more than six months for doping offences from entering the following Games, declaring it a sanction rather than an eligibility issue, and therefore non-compliant with the WADA code. CAS said the IOC should propose an amendment to the WADA Code if it wished to keep the rule.

Millar released a statement the same day backing the WADA Code as the solution for international competition “no longer…governed independently by regional or national bodies.”

And there, it seemed, the story ended. But in the third week of November, WADA went on the offensive, describing the British Olympic Association’s by-law preventing the selection of British athletes who had served a doping ban as ‘non-compliant’ with its Code in light of the CAS ruling on the IOC’s Rule 45.

WADA’s Director General, David Howman, argued that the BOA’s by-law fell into the same category as the IOC’s Rule 45 i.e. a sanction rather than an eligibility issue.

Howman’s comments, and WADA’s declaration on the alleged non-compliance with its Code of the BOA’s by-law outraged the BOA board, who immediately issued a statement announcing its intention to seek a CAS hearing to “vigorously defend the interests of clean athletes”.

On December 14, CAS announced it would hear the dispute in April 2012, a decision welcomed by BOA chairman, Lord Moynihan, who argued that WADA had confused doping sanctions with selection policy, and pledged to defend a by-law older than WADA.

For Millar, the hearing could prove meaningless. He has admitted to ‘writing off’ the chance of Olympic selection some time ago, and ruled out making his own challenge to the BOA by-law, describing it as a fight he does want to fight for fear of further ‘vilification’ – an understandable decision given the considerable effort he has made to rebuild his career as a clean rider.

But the world of cycling will consider closely the CAS verdict when it is delivered – one that has the potential to further polarize a debate on which little middle ground has emerged.

Cavendish’s most recent comments on Millar’s predicament merely restated the views he had expressed in a November interview with The Times, in which he described Millar as ‘redeemed’, praised the Scotman’s role in his own victory at the world road race championships, and said it would be ‘great’ to have Millar alongside him on the start line for the Olympic road race.

But Sir Chris Hoy, writing three weeks later in his blog for the Daily Telegraph, was unequivocal in his support for the BOA’s stance. “Proven drug cheats have no place in the Olympics and just because the rest of the world is allowing such athletes to represent them doesn’t mean Britain has to toe the line,” he wrote.

Whatever ruling is delivered by CAS  – and a verdict is now expected before April – the issue of cyclists who have served doping bans representing their countries in Olympic competition is unlikely to go away (the issue has riven the Italian national team, for example). Expect this, sadly, to be one of the biggest stories in the lead up to the Olympics, despite Millar’s dignified stance and Cavendish’s admirable pleas for his friend.

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