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Contador wins another battle, but war far from over

Cleared of using a banned substance by the Spanish cycling authorities, Alberto Contador will be a relieved man after months of anguish following a positive test for clenbuterol.

However the three-time Tour de France champion is well aware the International Cycling Union (UCI) is likely to appeal Tuesday's decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Nevertheless, fans of the Spanish climbing ace will be rejoicing at the return of the man who seemed on schedule to replace Lance Armstrong as a serial winner of the Tour de France.

Like Armstrong, who conquered testicular cancer to return to the sport and win the world's biggest bike race seven years in succession, Contador knows what it is like to brush with death.

In 2004 he was diagnosed with suffering from a cavernoma (aneurism), following a crash, after he had fallen unconscious, in the Tour of Asturias.

Faced with ignoring the problem and risking never riding again, or having a risky operation, Contador chose the latter. A scar which required 100 stitches is testament to his determination.

Recognised as a potentially major talent from early childhood, Contador has gone on to forge a sterling career which, unlike Armstrong, has seen him win a wide variety of stages races throughout the season.

A year after Armstrong retired in 2005, Contador was tempted to the American's then team, Discovery Channel, for the 2007 Tour de France campaign.

It proved a judicious move, with Contador claiming victory on his first participation, albeit after he had inherited the yellow jersey late in the race after Danish race leader Michael Rasmussen was excluded for suspected doping.

In 2007 Contador was questioned as part of the probe into the Operation Puerto blood doping scandal, but was never formally charged.

He then moved to Astana but was unable to defend his title when the team paid a heavy price, being banned, for doping demeanours carried out a year earlier while under different management.

Nonplussed, the Spaniard turned his attention to the Giro d'Italia and Tour of Spain and won both, joining an elite club of cyclists to have won all three Grand Tours.

Contador's preparations for the 2009 race were going well, until Astana announced the signing of Armstrong as the American planned his comeback after a four-year absence.

After a tense co-habitation, Contador proved his team leadership in the mountains and showed toughness of character in the face of tensions within the team and baiting by Armstrong.

In the past few months, Contador has been as equally defiant in rejecting accusations of doping.

Despite a Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) proposal for the Spaniard to serve a one-year ban, Contador hit back: "Why should I accept a one-year ban if I did absolutely nothing? It just doesn't seem like the right step."

After Armstrong returned in 2010 with a new team, RadioShack, they were no match for Contador, who was left to duel with 2009 runner-up Andy Schleck for the fabled yellow jersey.

Considered discreet and amiable off the bike, the Spaniard showed his killer instinct on the bike when he powered away from Schleck as the Luxemburger suffered a mechanical problem on a key mountain stage.

It was a controversial, but ultimately legitimate move which indirectly led to his third overall victory. That day, Schleck lost 39sec to Contador, who won by the exact same margin in Paris.

Shortly after his triumph, Contador signed with the Saxo Bank team run by former Tour winner Bjarne Riis, as it became clear that Schleck would be leaving the Danish outfit.

Schleck has recently gone on record to say he would be happy to inherit the 2010 yellow jersey if Contador was banned. Like the Spaniard, Schleck may now have to wait before fully rejoicing.

by Justin Davis, AFP

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