Madrid, Feb 16 (AFP) Spain''s cycling federation clearedthree-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador Tuesday ofknowingly using a banned substance in a dramatic U-turn in thecase that means he can ride in this year''s race.
The 28-year-old''s future has hung in the balance since heannounced last August he had tested positive for minute tracesof the banned substance clenbuterol during last July''s Tour deFrance.
He has repeatedly denied knowingly taking any bannedsubstances, blaming the result on a steak he says wascontaminated with traces of the muscle-building drug.
"I''m relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. Ithas been some very stressful months for me, but throughout thecase I have been totally available for all inquiries,"Contador said after the federation''s final ruling wasannounced.
"All the way through I have spoken in accordance with thetruth," he added in a statement distributed by his Saxo Bankteam.
The decision marked an about-turn for the Spain''s cyclingfederation, whose competition committee last month hadrecommended a one-year ban for Contador, a ruling that wouldhave stripped him of his 2010 Tour de France title.
Saxo Bank said Spain''s cycling federation decided toclear Contador based on the evidence in the case and theexplanation provided by the rider about unknowingly consuminga banned substance.
The decision means Contador, who joined Saxo Bank fromAstana shortly after his third Tour win, is free to competefor the first time for his new team.
He will ride in the Tour of Algarve which gets underwayWednesday in southern Portugal.
But the The International Cycling Union (UCI), thesport''s world governing body, and the World Anti-Doping Agency(WADA) have a month to appeal to the Court of Arbitration forSport (CAS), based in Switzerland, which would have the finalword.
The president of the Spanish cycling federation, JuanCarlos Castano, said he was confident that the decision wouldstand up even if there is an appeal.
"We believe that the decision which the competitioncommittee has taken is in keeping with the rules so there willbe no problem to defend it here, in Switzerland or anywhere,"he told reporters. More (AP) AT