Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador made his comeback from a two-year doping ban during the first stage of the Tour of Benelux on Monday.
The week-long Tour of the Low Countries -- known officially as the Eneco Tour -- began on August 6, the very day that Contador's ban expired.
“I'm happy to be back,” said Contador, who was banned for testing positive for the anabolic steroid clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.
Contador had blamed his positive test on a contaminated steak that he ate during that year's Tour, one of three editions of the race that he won. He was stripped of his 2010 Tour win and the ban ruled him out of this year's Olympics.
“I've put a difficult time behind me. Fortunately I've always been able to count on my family and friends,” said the Spaniard. “What has marked me is the powerlessness that I felt faced with the decision makers.
“Tests are necessary but the loopholes in the rules need to be filled. I'm not looking for revenge -- being back on my bicycle is my only desire. I want to feel happy again as a rider.”
Germany's Marcel Kittel won the first stage of the race between Waalwijk and Middelburg in the southern Netherlands after a sprint finish ahead of France's Arnaud Demare and American Taylor Phinney.
A number of big-name sprinters were caught up in a crash that hit the peleton with two kilometres to go.
Contador, who failed to finish among the leaders, plans to take part in the Clasica de San Sebastian next week before September's Tour of Spain, and is targeting a place on the Spain team at next month's World Championships in the Netherlands. – AFP