Alberto Contador yesterday expressed relief after being cleared by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) after testing positive for a banned substance at last year's Tour de France, which he won.
The 28-year-old Spaniard reported an adverse finding for clenbuterol on 21 July last year, attributing the result on the second rest day to contaminated meat and maintaining his innocence throughout. The RFEC's disciplinary committee last month proposed a one-year ban but yesterday Contador's spokesman confirmed the three-time Tour champion is free to begin the Tour of the Algarve today.
Contador said: "First of all, I'm relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. It has been some very stressful months for me, but throughout the case I have been totally available for all inquiries in relation to my case, and all the way through I have spoken in accordance with the truth.
"To both the team and the authorities I have explained, that I never cheated or deliberately took a banned substance."
Andy Ramos, Contador's lawyer, said: "We have received confirmation that the investigation has been shelved and Alberto can race again. Justice has been done. The UCI [cycling's world governing body] will study the decision and for our part there is nothing to appeal. We hope the UCI don't appeal." He added that Contador was "very well, very pleased".
The case now moves back into the hands of the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). They have one month to decide whether to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Switzerland.
Contador won the 2010 Tour – his third title after wins in 2007 and 2009 – as an Astana rider, beating Andy Schleck by 39 seconds, but has since agreed a move to Team Saxo Bank-Sungard.
The adverse finding for anabolic agent clenbuterol, reportedly 400 times smaller than Wada are required to detect, was revealed last September – after he had signed for Bjarne Riis' squad – and Contador was provisionally suspended. Clenbuterol can be used to reduce body fat and improve aerobic capacity.
The UCI will take time to consider the verdict of the RFEC before deciding on a course of action.
* Britain's Mark Cavendish finished second to Theo Bos in the opening stage of the Tour of Oman yesterday, losing out in a sprint finish.