Paris: World cycling chiefs have backed calls for Alberto Contador to be presumed innocent of doping until proven guilty, as the Spaniard prepares to embark upon the defence of his Tour de France crown.
Contador confirmed his participation for the July 2-25 epic earlier this week, meaning he is primed for a rare Giro d`Italia-Tour de France double.
However debate is raging over whether the Spanish cycling ace, who won the Giro last month, should be competing at all.
Contador tested positive for clenbuterol during last year`s Tour de France but was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Spanish federation after it accepted his claim that he ingested the banned substance through a contaminated steak.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have since appealed that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which is set to deliver a verdict in August.
Although a CAS ban would annul all his results dating from and including last year`s Tour de France, legally Contador currently has every right to compete.
Less than three weeks ahead of the world`s biggest bike race, the UCI on called for understanding of the case and for Contador to be treated like any other athlete.
"The UCI recognises the legitimacy of the request made by Mr Contador`s defence team, and has accepted that request in the interests of guaranteeing the rider a fair trial," the UCI said in a statement issued by its management committee.
"However, the UCI also perfectly understands why the timetable set by the Court of Arbitration for Sport has caused some disappointment, even incomprehension, among many observers within the cycling community as well as the general public."
Following a management committee meeting in Maastricht, the UCI said the "excessively long" process of considering the Contador case was "the logical result of the need for justice to be administered properly".
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge commented on the case Wednesday: "I agree that it will cast a question mark on the validity of the result until the verdict is rendered... but there is a presumption of innocence."
The UCI said it "echoed" Rogge`s analysis and called for spectators and opponents of Contador alike to put any feelings of bias stemming from his positive test aside.
"... Alberto Contador has the statutory right to take part in any competition insofar as he has not been found guilty by the CAS," added the statement.
"The UCI Management Committee asks that every sportsman and woman set aside their personal opinions, however valid they may be, and accept this framework, which is the result of a long and rigorous procedure.
"The UCI, which has always persevered in seeking out the truth, is ready to accept its responsibilities and is also keen to see the swiftest possible conclusion to the matter.
"Until that time, the UCI Management Committee asks that we respect Alberto Contador`s right to be treated like every other rider who takes the start of the Tour de France.”
"The prestige of the event warrants it, and the dignity of all athletes demands it."