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Valverde hearing closes, decision not expected until March

Alejandro Valverde continues to deny his involvement in the Operación Puerto doping scandal, but that might not be enough to overturn a two-year racing ban in Italy.

Valverde’s long and winding road and his alleged links to Puerto reached a head this week during a three-day hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which closed Thursday with a hint that the Vuelta a España champion likely won’t be racing in Italy anytime soon.

In what was viewed as a victory by Valverde’s legal team, CAS ruled at the opening of the hearing that it would not consider an appeal from the UCI and WADA to expand the two-year doping ban imposed in Italy throughout the rest of the world.

Valverde’s lawyers argued that Italian authorities have no legal right to impose a ban on Valverde, who holds a racing license in Spain.

Italian authorities slapped a two-year racing ban on Valverde last year after they matched blood samples taken from Valverde during a stage of the 2008 Tour de France in Italy and bags of blood that were confiscated during Spanish police raids in 2006.

Valverde was forced out of last year’s Tour because the route crossed Italy in Stage 15.

A decision is not expected before March, CAS officials said.

Valverde was outed by Spanish media as Val-Piti in the notorious Puerto papers dating back from the 2006 police raids in Spain, but he continues to deny he was a client of alleged Puerto ring-leader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.

“The only reason I knew Dr. Fuentes was because he was the brother of my doctor,” Valverde said, referring to Yolanda, Fuentes’ sister who took over as team doctor when Fuentes left in 2002. “I have nothing to hide.”

Valverde testified via telephone during the three-day hearing in Lausanne. Several others appeared in person, including Caisse d’Epargne sport director Eusebio Unzue and ex-Kelme rider Jesus Manzano.

Manzano repeated earlier testimony that he saw Valverde taking banned performance-enhancing products.

“Doping was a way of life,” Manzano said.

Valverde is scheduled to open his 2010 racing season with Caisse d’Epargne at the Tour Down Under.

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