Contador faces formal doping investigation

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Cyclist Alberto Contador (L) of Spain gestures beside former cyclist and sports director Jesus Suarez Cueva during the "II Criterium Ciclista Ciudad de Oviedo" cycling race in Oviedo, northern Spain, October 30, 2010. The International Cycling Union (UCI) has asked the Spanish federation to open disciplinary proceedings against Tour de France winner Contador for failing a drugs test, the UCI said on November 8, 2010. Picture taken October 30, 2010.

GENEVA - Tour de France winner Alberto Contador is set to be formally investigated for doping during this year's race.

The International Cycling Union said Monday it had asked the Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) to open a case against the 27-year-old rider who tested positive for banned anabolic agent clenbuterol in the final week of his third Tour victory in July.

The RFEC said in a statement it had received the UCI's request and would follow all established protocols in order to "investigate and resolve all the issues arising from the doping control that was carried out on the cyclist."

If found guilty, Contador would be stripped of the Tour victory and banned for up to two years.

Contador denies doping and says the clenbuterol, which can be used to burn fat and build muscle, came from contaminated meat that he ate.

His spokesman Jacinto Vidarte welcomed confirmation that a case was being opened.

"If this is the news then it means we're on the way to resolving this issue," Vidarte said. "Now it will be time to either sanction or resolve Alberto of the matter."

Contador has threatened to quit the sport, regardless of the outcome of the doping investigation.

"Until the end of the proceedings and despite his provisional suspension, Alberto Contador still benefits from a presumption of innocence," the UCI said in a statement on Monday.

The UCI announced in September that Contador had been provisionally suspended after his urine sample taken on the July 21 rest day contained "very small" traces of the banned substance. It then asked WADA for "scientific support" before proceeding.

"At the end of a long and meticulous inquiry entrusted to highly qualified, WADA-accredited experts, and considering all the information currently in its possession, the UCI has concluded that disciplinary proceedings should be opened against Alberto Contador," the UCI's statement said.

"For additional safety, considering the very low concentration (of clenbuterol) detected, the UCI continued scientific investigations in collaboration with WADA. In particular, it conducted a series of new analyses on all the blood and urine samples taken from the rider in the period in question."

The UCI did not call for Contador to be investigated over alleged high levels of plastic residue found in his race urine sample, which scientists believe can indicate a rider has received a transfusion of his own blood.

Though the UCI tests riders at the Tour, national authorities have responsibility to prosecute doping cases.

If the Spanish federation decides to clear Contador, the UCI and WADA can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Contador won the Tour riding for the Kazakh-backed Astana team, then signed a contract with the Danish Saxo Bank SunGard team.

On Sunday, Saxo Bank team owner Bjarne Riis said in a newspaper interview he believed Contador would be cleared of any doping suspicion.

Riis won the 1996 Tour de France then admitted after retiring that he used the banned drug EPO at the time.

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Three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Spain attends a news conference in Herning August 13, 2010.

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Tour de France champion Alberto Contador speaks during a news conference at his hometown of Pinto, near Madrid September 30, 2010.