Spain's press Tuesday slammed a two-year doping ban on Spanish cycling hero Alberto Contador as a legal muddle that left Spain looking as if it favoured drug cheats.
"Scandalous outrage," blared the front page of the biggest sports daily Marca in the strongest reaction against the penalty, which strips Contador of his 2010 Tour de France title. (Previous read: Contador banned and stripped of Tour de France)
"The sanction against Alberto Contador should go down in the history books of folly," the paper said in an editorial.
"Whatever way you look it, it is an unprecedented legal outrage that puts the whole system under suspicion," it said, saying the punishment made illegitimate all three sport bodies involved.
The Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hit the 29-year-old Contador with a two-year, backdated suspension running through to August 6, 2012.
It thus stripped him of his 2010 Tour de France victory -- one of his three Tour wins -- and the Giro d'Italia and barred him from taking part in this year's Tour de France and the 2012 London Olympics.
Contador tested positive for traces of the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France, but he claimed it came from eating contaminated steak.
The Spanish Cycling Federation proposed a one-year ban, but then retracted any punishment after Contador contested it and was backed by politicians including then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union appealed that decision to the CAS, which imposed the two-year ban, arguing he had probably ingested it from a contaminated food supplement.
"That a court should decide to apply the maximum possible sanction and admit at the same time that there is no foundation to sustain the decision should be enough to discredit any judge," Marca said.
Rival sports daily AS's director Alfredo Relano said Contador had spent three hours explaining his innocence to the paper previously and most of the staff believed him.
"But what Contador argues cannot be proven because if there was proof, he ate it," Relano wrote.
Without that proof, the cyclist was sanctioned, he said: "Tough justice, but justice."
A few days before the Spanish federation announced it was exonerating the sportsman, Zapatero had declared on Twitter that 'there is no legal reason to sanction Contador.'
"The outcome leaves us again looking like a country that tolerates doping," Relano said.
Spain's leading daily El Pais said that under the CAS rules, the presence of a banned substance in an athelete's body was considered evidence of doping unless proven otherwise.
"For the CAS, Alberto Contador did not manage to prove it and for that reason he was sanctioned," El Pais said in an editorial.
"In any case, it seems clear that the Contador case was handled politically with clumsiness," it said.
If the Spanish federation had imposed the one-year ban originally proposed it would have been accepted by the other sports bodies, El Pais argued.
The Contador case left "an impression of chaos and arbitrariness that ruins any hint of seriousness," it added, noting that the Spanish federation had called for an exoneration and the CAS for the maximum penalty.
"Despite the legal labyrinth, the sanction on Contador and his reactions show that Spain has a more tolerant view than abroad on doping," the paper said.