By Andrew Hood
Just as cycling enters the off-season, threats of new doping scandals are looming on the horizon in Italy and Spain.
In Italy, the sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that officials are going to re-test samples taken from the 2008 Giro d’Italia for the presence of the banned blood booster CERA.
And in Spain, a magazine reports on a police investigation into an alleged doping ring, including some text messages reportedly between some well-known pro cyclists and a doctor.
Historians might have to re-write the results from the 2008 Giro after officials in Padua have seized more than 80 urine samples to be re-analyzed to test for the presence of the third-generation of EPO called CERA.
The new test for CERA was unveiled during the 2008 Tour de France, where riders such as Riccardo Riccò, Leonardo Piepoli, Bernard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher tested positive for the new favorite doping method.
Suspicions that CERA was in use long before the Tour were confirmed when Emanuele Sella, who won three stages and the King of the Mountains jersey during the 2008 Giro, tested for CERA in an out-of-competition test during the summer of 2008. Sella later provided information to officials for a reduction in his race ban, which prompted Italian officials to move to re-test samples.
Earlier efforts to back-test Giro samples for CERA were squashed by the UCI, but now Italian officials in Padua have taken up the case.
The push to re-test back samples is part of a larger doping investigation, dubbed “Via Col Doping,” dating back to raids during the 2001 Giro. According to the report, about a half-dozen samples have returned results that could indicate the presence of CERA.
According to the report, 30 people have been brought in for questioning, among them seven professional cyclists. Police have confiscated alleged doping diaries and have videotape of Dr. Enrico Lazzaro treating patients (including a 15-year-old swimmer in the presence of her father).
The report also outlined a new blood doping practice which evaded current testing protocol which monitor blood parameters. About 200ml of blood is extracted, mixed with an anti-coagulant, and re-injected. The practice does not alter blood values and is all but undetectable, the report said.
More questions in Spain
Meanwhile in Spain, there are hints that other intrepid doctors have worked to fill the void left by alleged Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, whose expansive doping ring was busted up by officials in May 2006.
In Portugal, officials have suspended Spanish doctor Marcos Maynar for 10 years from practicing in that country for his links to a large-spread doping ring involving Portuguese team LA MSS in 2008. Other team officials are facing hard jail time of up to eight years.
Despite some tantalizing evidence, judges in Valladolid temporarily closed an investigation into Spanish doctor Jesús Losa earlier this summer for a lack of evidence. Losa strongly denied working as a doping doctor.
A recent report published in the Spanish magazine Intervíu reveals an inside look into the police investigation.
According to Intervíu, officials intercepted telephone SMS messages from several active riders and the doctor. The magazine printed detailed excerpts from police files of alleged text messages between Losa and riders.
Losa — who was linked to the David Millar doping scandal in 2001 and the former team doctor for Euskaltel-Euskadi and Relax — was fingered by Moises Dueñas (who tested positive in the 2008 Tour de France) and Maribel Moreno (who became the first doping positive at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing).
Dueñas admitted paying 6,000 euros per year to Losa and expressed shock that he tested positive for EPO in the 2008 Tour “because if I did what you told me, I would give a positive result.”
Among them is an unknown message to Losa, referring to the 2009 Paris-Nice: “Your friend won Paris-Nice,” to which Losa responds, “He was there, like a champion.”
According to Intervíu, police evidence revealed that Rock Racing’s Francisco Mancebo also maintained a relationship with Losa. In a reported exchange between Losa and Mancebo, Mancebo sent a text message dated Jan. 28 to Losa: “Call me to eat one day and bring me something … we have a crisis.” To which Losa responds, “Ja, ja … whenever you want.” A few days later, Mancebo won the first stage of the Tour of California.
Another message is allegedly from an unidentified former winner of the Tour de France, who wrote in 2008 after refusing his services: “I am coming back from the Tour in a state of shock. Thank goodness I am not so ambitious and I didn’t take anything you had given me … You were at the point of throwing me to unemployment and ruining my career.”
More exchanges between a father of a young rider and Losa revealed that even parents get in on the game: “He’s been racing four years on macaroni and the results haven’t been very good. (Wants) to ride equal to everyone else, on the same level.”
Whether the courts re-open the Losa investigation remains an interesting question.
Officials in Spain might reinvigorate this case and others, such as Operación Puerto, in the coming months, especially since Spain lost its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro.
Spanish officials were not keen to speak about the doping investigations for fear it would harm their efforts to promote Madrid as a host city for the Olympics.
Fuentes wins back pay
In another bizarre twist in the Fuentes story, the controversial Spanish doctor won a court decision this week awarding him nearly $1 million in back-pay owed by the former team Kelme.
A court in Valencia awarded Fuentes 600,000 euros for unpaid wages he was due while employed by the team from 2003-06. An appeal is likely.