Despite being slapped with a two-year ban and having his 2010 Tour de France title stripped following a lengthy doping investigation, Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador promised to return to professional cycling and maintained his innocence in the face of a positive test for the steroid clenbuterol.
He said his lawyers are considering whether to appeal the ban handed down by sport's highest court and insisted that even if the punishment stands he will return to challenge for more Tour titles.
The penalty is retroactive and will expire in August.
"I'm sure of one thing: I want to come back to ride the best races," Contador said at a news conference, making in his first comments since Monday's verdict ended an 18-month doping investigation that again highlighted cycling's long-standing problem with banned substances.
Contador had previously hinted that he might quit if banned for testing positive for clenbuterol on his way to winning a third Tour title in 2010.
The Spaniard had based his defense on a bad steak, saying he must have digested the clenbuterol — a banned anabolic agent — by eating contaminated meat that his team imported from Spain during the Tour.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport didn't accept that scenario, saying it was more likely that it came from a food supplement.
"Something doesn't work with the system," Contador said at a crowded news conference in his native Pinto, on the outskirts of Madrid. "My lawyers and I will fight as far as we need to demonstrate my innocence."
Contador said his legal team are examining whether to appeal to Switzerland's supreme court, which is the only body he can still turn to in hopes of being exonerated.
"I've tried everything to understand this ruling, but I cannot. I cannot understand this ban they have handed me," said Contador, who underwent a lie-detector test during the doping investigation. "If there is anything else I can do to prove my innocence I'd like to know."
Contador said the ordeal has left him disillusioned with the sport and he would never recommend professional cycling to anyone.
"The only satisfaction I feel is that whatever decision was reached, the ruling never says I doped," Contador said during a 50-minute news conference that was often interrupted by rounds of applause and yells of "Contador" from supportive locals. "There was never an intention on my part."
Contador would not comment on his financial situation, with the International Cycling Union looking to fine him $3.25 million. His Saxo Bank-SunGard team boss Bjarne Riis said Tuesday that Contador would not be paid if he is not racing.
Contador, who tested positive during a rest day at the 2010 Tour, will be stripped of the results from his races since Jan. 25, 2011 — the day the Spanish federation proposed a one-year ban, which was squashed through appeal before being taken by the UCI and WADA to CAS. That includes his Giro d'Italia victory last season.
"They can take those two years and fine me but they can never take away my victories," Contador said.
Contador is banned from riding until Aug. 6 and will miss this year's Tour, Giro d'Italia and Olympics in London. He did not say whether he will line up for the Spanish Vuelta, which starts on Aug. 18.
Riis said the team's trust in Contador was "100 percent intact," but Contador's future with the Danish team remains vague.
"August is still a long time (away). If he wishes to continue with the team, our intention is the same," Riis said. "I would have no problem working with Alberto again. I have not seen a bike rider like him in many, many years, probably not since (Eddy) Merckx."
Contador and Merckx are among only five cyclists to have won all three of cycling's major events during their career. Contador also won the Tour in 2007 and '09, and took the Giro and Spanish Vuelta in 2008.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.