Alberto León: a tragic victim of Spain’s latest doping scandal

Spain's ongoing doping scandals took their ultimate toll this week with the apparent suicide of Alberto León.

Spain’s ongoing doping scandals took their ultimate toll this week with the apparent suicide of Alberto León. The former mountain biker was found dead by family members Monday after he hung himself in his brother’s home in San Lorenzo de El Escorial on the outskirts of Madrid. He was 37.

On December 9, León was among 14 people arrested in Spain for the latest doping scandal dubbed Operación Galgo, once again centered around the infamous Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

According to comments made by his family to the Spanish media, León was despondent over his grim future. He recently separated from his wife and two children, and didn’t have a job. Already implicated in Operación Puerto from 2006, León was facing hefty fines and possible jail time for his role in an elaborate doping ring that included some of Spain’s top track and field athletes.

In fact, it was the Puerto doping scandal that helped eased the way for approval of Spain’s stronger anti-doping law, which adds some teeth to anti-doping efforts with fines and time behind bars.

According to police reports, León apparently served as the “mule” for Fuentes, helping to run logistics for an elaborate doping ring that included blood transfusions and a wealth of banned performance-enhancing products such as EPO, anabolic steroids, synthetic testosterone, human growth hormones and other doping products.

Largely unknown until his name made headlines as part of the Puerto scandal in 2006, León earned a less nefarious reputation as one of the mountain biking pioneers of Spain. In the early 1990s, he was one of the new breed of mountain bikers and secured one of Spain’s first professional contracts, headlining the Coronas-BH team as the sport boomed south of the Pyrénées.

Despite being a popular rider known for his top technical skills, León hadn’t had much luck and never won any major races, his pro career petering out by the late 1990s. By the early 2000s, León working for a local bike shop and was in need of extra money to feed his growing family.

It’s not know how he first made contact with Fuentes in what would become a long and ultimately tragic relationship, but by the time police blew the lid on Operación Puerto, León had grown into one of the most trusted members of Fuentes’ ring.

Police identified him as the network’s “mule,” the errand boy who helped organize the nuts and bolts of the operation.

Police allege that León would help set up “laboratories” at apartments and offices used by Fuentes in Madrid and elsewhere in Spain to perform the blood doping ritual of extracting the blood, labeling and keeping it refrigerated at proper temperatures and then transporting it for later re-injection before sporting events.

It was León who would set up and then later clean the apparatus and medical equipment to execute the blood transfusions. He would often be on the road, traveling around Europe to deliver the valued packets of blood.

One big break in Operación Puerto investigation came when police tapped phones of several of the key suspects. One of them was León, who had just come back from a trip to Italy when police say he transported bags of blood and other doping products midway through that year’s Giro d’Italia.

Like all the other “civilians” implicated in Puerto, however, León was largely free of charges because existing laws in Spain did not explicitly ban doping in sport.

All that changed in the fall of 2006 when Spain passed new legislation that brought Spain in line with mainstream Europe and illegalized the administration, trafficking and usage of performance-enhancing drugs.

According to police reports, León’s activities were lucrative. He would make up to 3,000 euros (about $4,500) per operation. The allure of easy money and limited prospects probably kept León feeding from the Fuentes trough despite the close call with Puerto.

Incredibly, it appears that Fuentes continued operating in the wake of the Puerto scandal and León was back in the headlines again in early December when Spanish police uncovered what they say is a widespread doping ring among top track and field athletes.

The stakes were much higher for León with Galgo and authorities were leaning on him heavily to deliver damning evidence against others in the alleged doping ring.