The Associated Press. Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and third-place finisher and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, right, react on the podium after the 21st stage of the Tour de France cycling race, in Paris, France, on July 26, 2009.
PARIS -- Alberto Contador might as well be riding this year's Tour de France with an asterisk emblazoned on his jersey.
The small print would say: Doping appeal Aug. 1-3 before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The three-time Tour champion's hearing a week after the race ends will loom in the background as cycling's showcase event plays out against the familiar scenes of rolling countryside and soaring mountains.
Bradley Wiggins, who recently won the Criterium du Dauphine to position himself as a credible rival to Contador, said the defending champion's presence next month on the snaking roads of France is bad for the sport.
''Personally, I am happy that he is there as it means that Saxo Bank will be doing everything to help him win,'' Wiggins said referring to Contador's team. ''Sports-wise, though, it is not a good thing that a bloke who tested positive four times is in the race. It is also bad for all those teams that are fighting to be clean, as is the case with my team, Sky.''
Contador tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol on the second rest day of the 2010 Tour and traces of the drug were found in tests performed over the next three days. But the Spanish cycling federation dismissed those tests because clenbuterol takes several days to leave a person's system, and then cleared Contador of the positive test, accepting his explanation that he inadvertently consumed infinitesimal doses of clenbuterol in contaminated beef.
The International Cycling Union and World Anti-Doping Agency appealed that ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The case originally was scheduled to be heard in June, but the CAS pushed the dates back to August, acceding to a request from Contador's legal team for more time to prepare. That cleared the way for the Spaniard to compete in this year's Tour from July 2-24.
''It's hard to understand that a year later, we still don't have an answer and we have to wait until after the Tour to get an answer,'' Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. ''There is an incredible time lag between the world of the sports media and that of sporting justice.''
While the UCI deplored ''excessively long'' proceedings in Contador's case, it said that until the CAS rules the Spaniard has the right ''to be treated like every other rider who takes the start of the Tour de France.''
Even the distraction Lance Armstrong caused by coming out of retirement to compete in the 2009 Tour, which race organizers called an embarrassment to the event, falls short of what Contador's participation this year could do to further sully cycling.
Though rumors and accusations of doping dogged Armstrong throughout his career, and he is currently under investigation by a federal grand jury, the Texan never tested positive for a banned substance.
Contador's decision to defend his title in the grueling three-week race ahead of his impending hearing sets up the possibility he could win a fourth Tour title only to be stripped of it and banned from the sport if the CAS rules against him weeks later. He would lose all his victories since the positive test, including last year's Tour title and the Giro d'Italia crown he won in May.
While a negative ruling would severely taint the 28-year-old's legacy in the sport, being cleared could cement his status among cycling's all-time greats.
He already is one of only five riders to have won all three of the sport's Grand Tours: the Tour, the Giro and the Spanish Vuelta. A fourth win in the Tour would give him his seventh Grand Tour victory, tying him with Armstrong, Miguel Indurain and Fausto Coppi. Only cycling legends Eddy Merckx (11), Bernard Hinault (10) and Jacques Anquetil (8) have won more.
A victory in July also would give Contador his third consecutive Tour title, a feat achieved by only five other men: Louison Bobet, Anquetil, Merckx, Indurain and Armstrong, the all-time record holder with seven straight.
Wearing the yellow jersey at the finish in Paris on July 24 also would put Contador in position to make history by becoming the first cyclist to win all three Grand Tours in the same season. Saxo Bank team boss Bjarne Riis says the Spaniard has what it takes to win the Tour and add a Vuelta crown in September. Contador calls it ''a dream.''
While this year's Tour appears to be tailor-made for Contador with six high-mountain stages and four hilltop finishes, he said winning will be hard because of the toll the Giro took on his legs.
''It is very difficult to win the Tour anyway, because it requires a specific approach,'' he said. ''The Giro was not the ideal preparation, because it was extremely difficult.''