By Andrew Hood
UCI president Pat McQuaid made his strongest appeal yet for resolution to the Operación Puerto doping scandal when he asked Spain’s sports minister Monday to allow samples from nearly 100 bags of blood and plasma be made available for DNA testing.
In an open letter addressed to sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky, McQuaid insisted that Spanish authorities collaborate with the UCI to try to identify whose blood was found during police raids last May of offices and apartments used by controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
“The UCI wants to ensure that all the blood that was found in relation to the Puerto affair is identified,” McQuaid wrote. “The whole cycling community, and indeed the whole sports world, is waiting for the identification of all athletes who are apparently or possibly involved in the affair.”
Although a Spanish court last month closed criminal proceedings due to a lack of evidence against Fuentes and others allegedly involved in an elaborate blood-doping ring, the scandal continues to hang over cycling just weeks ahead of the sport’s most important stage races.
The letter also comes on the heels of rumors last week that Fuentes was allegedly back in operation despite a new Spanish law approved over the winter that now makes it a criminal offense to administer and accept treatments of performance-enhancing doping products.
“This action is all the more necessary in light of indications that practices such as those discovered in the Puerto affair have not stopped,” McQuaid continued. “The UCI now makes an urgent appeal to you to ensure that the competent authorities do whatever is in their jurisdiction to have the Puerto affair examined down to the last detail.”
The letter – released to the media on Monday – was also sent to IOC president Jacques Rogge and WADA director general David Howman. There was no immediate response from Spanish authorities Monday afternoon.
Earlier this month, German prosecutors confirmed that a DNA sample taken from ex-rider Jan Ullrich matched up with nine of the blood bags seized in the doping investigation. The bags were marked with code names, “Hijo de Rudicio” and “No. 1,” which Spanish authorities believed was Ullrich.
The 1997 Tour champion was among nine riders who were kicked out ahead of the 2006 Tour de France after his name appeared in a police dossier. Ullrich retired in February just weeks before the DNA tests were made public, but continues to deny he used banned performance-enhancing products during his career.
Earlier this year, some of the blood bags tested by Spanish authorities revealed the presence of the banned blood booster EPO.
Late last week, Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme hinted that riders implicated in the Puerto scandal might not be allowed to take the July 1 start of the 94th Tour.
Tour officials are desperate to avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle when Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Francisco Mancebo, Oscar Sevilla and five members of the Astana team were named in Puerto documents just a day before the opening prologue in Strasbourg, France.
“The information from Germany concerning Jan Ullrich has put it (Operación Puerto) right back into the spotlight,” Prudhomme told L’Equipe in a front-page story on Friday. “And naturally, the level of suspicion on the riders implicated has been pushed up a notch. … The sport just cannot allow cyclists who are still implicated in this affair to start the Tour de France if suspicion still hangs over them.”
Also, earlier this month, the UCI announced that all 20 ProTour teams and all pro riders except less than a dozen have agreed to be available to DNA testing if their names are connected to doping allegations. Those disagreeing rider’s names remain anonymous.
Copy of letter sent by UCI to Spanish government:
Sr. Jaime Lissavetzky Díez
El Secretario de Estado
Presidente del Consejo Superior de
Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia
Avd Martín Fierro, s/n
28040 Madrid – EspañaAigle, 23rd April 2007
Ref: PresidentDear Mr. Secretary of State, dear Jaime,Almost a year ago, the Puerto affair broke out. For more than a month,the only source of information was the press, until in June 2006, a reportof the Guardia Civil and its related documents were forwarded to the UCI.All the information therein was processed and forwarded to the respectiveNational Federations, with the request to initiate further enquiries and,where applicable, disciplinary proceedings. This the National Federationsdid, until it became known that the examining magistrate ruled that thesedocuments could not be used for disciplinary purposes.From the beginning, the UCI repeatedly asked the Spanish authoritiesto undertake all measures in order to clarify all aspects of the affairand to do whatever was necessary to identify the individuals whose bloodhad been found.On two occasions the UCI was refused the right to become a civil partyto the proceedings. We were eventually admitted by the Court of Appealsin March 2007.The UCI requested the help of WADA and WADA, in its turn, appealed tothe Spanish authorities. So did the IOC. The IOC, WADA and the UCI madeefforts to encourage the
Spanish authorities to have the Puerto affair completely examined andclarified as soon as possible.However, the examining magistrate recently decided to shelve the file.The public prosecutor appealed this decision and so did the UCI.The UCI has recently welcomed the decision of the Spanish authoritiesto enable the blood of one person to be identified. This was done throughthe intervention of foreign judicial authorities.The UCI wants to ensure that all the blood that was found in relationto the Puerto affair is identified. A number of riders have made theirDNA available to the Spanish Sports Council. Almost all riders of the ProTeamshave now signed an agreement enabling their DNA to be used for matchingpurposes as well. The whole cycling community, and indeed the whole sportsworld is waiting for the identification of all athletes who are apparentlyor possibly involved in the affair.I have recently discussed this matter with the Director of the Tourde France, Mr Christian Prudhomme who is very concerned that the integrityof his event may be compromised because this affair is not yet concluded.What is still missing is agreement and action from the Spanish authoritiesto proceed with the identification of the blood that is in their possessionor, at least, to make partial samples available for identification.The UCI now makes an urgent appeal to you to ensure that the competentauthorities do whatever is in their jurisdiction to have the Puerto affairexamined down to the last detail. We rely on such action from you to helpthe sporting authorities deal properly with their disciplinary responsibilityin the fight against doping.This action is all the more necessary in light of indications that practicessuch as those discovered in the Puerto affair have not stopped.The UCI makes this appeal to you with the full support of the IOC and WADA. All three organisations are committed to doing whatever is possible to ensure this matter is resolved.I remain, yours truly,
Cc: Dr. Jacques Rogge, IOC President
Mr. David Howman, WADA Director General