MADRID (Reuters) - Former Spanish Primer Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, criticized for intervening in Alberto Contador's doping case when still in office, has questioned the Court of Arbitration for Sport's (CAS) decision to ban the cyclist for two years.
In an opinion piece published in the sports daily Marca on Wednesday, Zapatero said he shared "with all Spaniards a sense of bewilderment about the ruling and of solidarity with Alberto.
"The ruling gives sufficient arguments to trust this born winner and CAS's rules give sufficient reasons to open a debate about their fairness," added Zapatero, whose Spanish Socialist Workers Party lost a general election late last year.
"It is obligatory to respect the decision, but also to ask yourself questions about its rationale," he wrote.
Contador told a news conference Tuesday he may appeal the ban, imposed for failing a dope test during his victorious 2010 Tour de France campaign.
The Spaniard, also stripped of the Tour title in Monday's CAS ruling, reiterated he was innocent of deliberate doping and said he planned to return to competition when the retroactive ban ends in August.
"He seemed calm and credible," Zapatero wrote. "As calm and credible as on all the occasions I have had the pleasure of speaking with him.
"Alberto has said he will continue in cycling and we will all follow him and support him. He deserves it and this sport, reserved only for the greatest, deserves it too."
The head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), John Fahey, told Reuters Tuesday that Contador might have escaped with a one-year sanction had it not been for Zapatero's intervention in the case last year.
The Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) initially proposed a one-year ban after Contador tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol.
Zapatero responded by saying via his official government Twitter account that there was no legal reason to sanction the rider and shortly afterwards the RFEC overturned the ban, clearing the way for Contador to return to competition.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) and WADA then appealed to Lausanne-based CAS, who announced their ruling on Monday.
(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Alastair Himmer)