Eufemiano Fuentes, Manolo Saiz and others face trial on public-health charges

Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and six others will go on trial for suspected involvement in a doping network in cycling, according to a judge's ruling released Wednesday.

The slow wheels of Spanish justice have finally ground forward with a trial for seven people linked to the Operación Puerto blood doping ring dating back to 2006.

According to a statement released Tuesday, Madrid’s Superior Court said that sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, ex-Liberty Seguros sport director Manolo Saiz and five others arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil in May 2006 will face charges of endangering public health and face possible jail terms of up to two years.

Others involved include former Kelme directors Vicente Belda and Jose Ignacio Labarta and doctors Yolanda Fuentes, José Luis Merino Batres and Alfredo Córdova.

If convicted, the doctors could lose their professional licenses and face fines.

A hearing date is not expected within the next six months, however.

Lower Spanish courts had previously twice blocked legal action in the Puerto case because judges ruled that no laws were broken. Spanish authorities have since approved stricter anti-doping law, but that still does not apply to the Puerto case.

Scores of cyclists — and reportedly other professional athletes — were connected to the Puerto scandal.

So far, evidence gathered in the investigation could not be used to apply racing bans. If the case finally reaches court, however, sporting organizations might be able to use it to impose sanctions against implicated athletes.

The lengthy investigation unveiled an elaborate blood doping ring that eventually led to racing bans for such riders as Ivan Basso and Alejandro Valverde and drove German star Jan Ullrich into retirement.

Police found blood bags, transfusion equipment and a stash of performance-enhancing drugs in raids at apartments in Madrid and Zaragoza. Doping schedules and code names also linked such riders as Tyler Hamilton to Fuentes’ international ring.