By Andrew Hood
Alejandro Valverde finally has a date with destiny.
November 16, to be exact, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport will hear testimony in the ongoing appeal on his two-year racing ban in Italy for links to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal.
The reigning Vuelta a España champion is fending off allegations leveled by Italian authorities that he was one of the top clients of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, a Madrid gynecologist and alleged ring-leader of the Puerto ring.
Officials from CONI matched blood samples taken during the 2008 Tour de France to bags said to contain blood belonging to Valverde. Following a successful DNA match, they slapped the Spanish rider with a two-year racing ban within Italian borders.
That was enough to keep Valverde out of the 2009 Tour, because the route covered about 100km of Italian roads en route from Switzerland to France in the final week.
Valverde claims he’s innocent while his lawyers argue Italian authorities have no legal right to ban a rider who holds a Spanish racing license.
There’s no word when CAS might reveal its final decision on the case, but the stakes are huge for both sides.
If CAS rules in favor of Valverde, he could be cleared of allegations that he was a Fuentes client. If CAS upholds the CONI ban, the UCI is expected to impose a universal ban, meaning Valverde could serve a two-year ban from racing his bike anywhere.
It’s just the latest legal wrangle in a story that dates back to the May 2006 police raids on Fuentes’ and others’ labs and offices which revealed one of the largest and most elaborate blood-doping rings in Europe.
Existing Spanish law at the time of the raids has prevented the proceeding judge from imposing strict jail terms or racing bans. With his hands tied, Judge Antonio Serrano has twice tried to close the case, only to be quickly challenged with appeal by the UCI, WADA and other Spanish prosecutors.
Under Spanish law, if a case is closed and no charges are filed, all gathered evidence would return to the alleged perpetrators. That would mean nearly 100 bags of blood, alleged doping diaries and other evidence gathered would be returned to Fuentes and others, who would likely quickly destroy the potentially damning evidence.
In Spain, the Puerto case is currently in the hands of an appeals court, which will decide if any laws were broken under existing law at the time of the 2006 raids.
A stricter, anti-doping law has since been signed into law in Spain, but cannot be retroactively applied to the Puerto case.