By PAUL LOGOTHETIS, Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Eddy Merckx wonders if someone is trying to "kill cycling."
The cycling great deplored the decision Monday to strip Alberto Contador of his 2010 Tour de France title and ban him for two years for doping.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Contador's claim that his positive test for clenbuterol was caused by eating contaminated meat. The Spaniard, who also won cycling's premier race in 2007 and 2009, joined Floyd Landis as the only riders to lose a Tour title.
"It's very bad for cycling. It's bad for everybody. It's like someone wants to kill cycling," Merckx, a five-time Tour de France winner, told The Associated Press at the Tour of Qatar. "I'm very surprised, very surprised. It's bad for the sponsors. It's bad for the Tour (de France). It's bad for cycling."
Contador said he ate tainted beef eaten on a Tour rest day. The top court in international sports called that "unlikely," saying the result was more likely caused by the "ingestion of a contaminated food supplement."
"Cycling always receives a bad name. It's always cycling that's attacked and other sports are never attacked. In other sports they don't go so far," Merckx said. "If you go zero-zero-zero-zero-zero (tolerance) you can always find something in everyone."
Contador has been banned from racing until Aug. 6 with all his results since Jan. 25, 2011, erased, including his Giro d'Italia victory last May. He is ineligible for this year's Tour, Giro and the London Olympics.
Andy Schleck, who finished 39 seconds behind Contador in the 2010 Tour, is now in line to become that year's champion. But the Luxembourg rider said that "will not make me happy."
"I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. This is just a very sad day for cycling," Schleck said. "The only positive news is that there is a verdict after 566 days of uncertainty. We can finally move on."
Tour director Christian Prudhomme said he was relieved a resolution was reached, although the case had revealed many of the sport's problems in dealing with doping cases.
"(The decision) is obviously very late, too late," Prudhomme said. "It is absolutely necessary that, even though sports justice like any type of justice needs serenity and even though the case was extremely complex, the outcome of that type of case come sooner."
Spanish cyclist Oscar Pereiro, who was elevated to 2006 champion after Landis was stripped, called the verdict "disgraceful." But Spain's Sports Ministry backed the CAS decision without offering a word of support for Contador.
"We, once again, completely reject all forms of doping," the ministry said.
The Spanish cycling federation was surprised CAS decided to overrule its decision to allow Contador to escape without a ban after the Saxo Bank-SunGuard rider had successfully appealed the federation's initial one-year suspension. The Spanish Association of Professional Cyclists also denounced the ruling.
"We feel a lot of sympathy for the athlete," Spanish cycling federation President Juan Carlos Castano said. "It's a sad day for Spanish sport and cycling."
Spain's national association of cattle farmers also felt vindicated, saying it had been subjected to "false accusations."
"This shows that our system of traceability and food safety is one of the best around and is homogeneous with all other EU countries," the organization said.
AP Sports Writer Michael Casey in Doha, Qatar, AP Sports Writer Raf Casert in Brussels and Associated Press writer Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP
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