Don't look now, but the Tour de France is nearly upon us. Cycling's Super Bowl starts in Vendée on July 2, and ends on the Champs Élysées 22 days later. True velophiles know, however, that the real drama won't start until Aug. 1—when Alberto Contador's appeal is heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Spaniard won last year's Tour but tested positive for Clenbuterol, the result, Contador claimed, of eating tainted beef. Surprisingly, the historically lenient Spanish Cycling Federation in January recommended that he be banned for a year. Not surprisingly, the federation quickly reversed its decision, deciding to take Contador at his word.
Less trusting were the UCI, cycling's governing body, and the World Anti-Doping Association. They appealed the Spanish federation's decision to the CAS. Originally scheduled for June, the hearing was postponed until August. That's good news for Contador, who now rides for Saxo Bank and will be able to defend his 2010 title. But it's more bad news for a sport that, try as it might, can't separate itself from the subject of performance-enhancing drugs. While he appears to still be recovering from his victory in the Giro d'Italia in May, Contador will be the favorite in this Tour, even as the possibility that he could be stripped of his 2010 title, should CAS find him guilty, will distract from everything else that happens during the race. The Spaniard's main threats will be Andy Schleck of Luxembourg—who might've beaten Contador a year ago, were it not for a dropped chain in the 15th stage—and Britain's Bradley Wiggins. Two of the U.S.'s best hopes, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, have won stage races this season and should provide bright spots for a Tour de France that, whatever the weather, will be contested under a cloud.