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MADRID (VN) — Tyler Hamilton outed several former Phonak teammates, including Óscar Sevilla, Santiago Pérez, Enrique Gutiérrez, and ex-director Alvaro Pino, during part of his riveting, if somewhat frustrating two-hour testimony Tuesday during the ongoing Operación Puerto trial in Spain.
After the opening moments of his testimony under oath via videoconference from the Spanish embassy in Washington, D.C. — when Hamilton confirmed it was Bjarne Riis who first suggested he work with Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes — Hamilton laid out an illicit trip several former Phonak teammates made from France to Madrid to undergo blood transfusions before the start of the 2004 Dauphiné Libéré.
“We all went to Madrid to see Fuentes,” Hamilton said. “At the race, we were all breathing through our noses. If you look at the results, we all finished in the top 10.”
Hamilton’s testimony on Tuesday was the first time that links between Riis and Fuentes, as well as deep ties between the former Phonak team and Fuentes have been sworn under oath.
Hamilton outlined much of his doping story in meticulous detail in his autobiography, The Secret Race, published last fall.
His testimony on Tuesday, however, has much more legal heft as it was taken under oath before a Spanish courtroom and revelations Tuesday provided a new dimension to the depth of contact between Fuentes and Phonak riders.
Hamilton described a trip in June 2004 with Phonak teammates and former Phonak director Pino from Lyon, France, to Madrid just ahead of the start of the 2004 Dauphiné.
When queried by the presiding judge if he knew what his teammates were up to, Hamilton answered he didn’t need to see the transfusions directly to know what was going on, adding, “I am not an idiot.”
“You fly from Lyon, France, down to Madrid, you stay one night in a hotel by the airport and fly back, we all went to see the same doctors,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t see the needle go in their arms, but I assumed they were doing the same thing.”
Hamilton said he infused a blood bag while “Fuentes and Merino were scurrying back and forth from the rooms,” and then returned to France the next morning.
The results were impressive. Hamilton finished second that year to winner Iban Mayo, with ex-Phonak teammate Sevilla finishing on the podium in third.
Hamilton also testified, under questioning from the attorney representing cycling’s governing body, the UCI, how he and Pérez wondered what happened when they both tested positive for homologous blood doping within weeks of each other.
Hamilton tested positive for homologous blood doping (the presence of foreign blood cells within the system as opposed to autologous, or the reinjection of one’s own blood) during the 2004 Vuelta a España. Pérez, who finished second in that year’s Vuelta, later tested positive for the same thing. (https://www.velonews.com/2007/07/news/a-doctor-explains-blood-doping_12924)
“Santí called me to ask about what happened,” Hamilton said. “He asked if there was anything strange about my [blood] bag. We both wondered what happened. I checked my code [41-42] to make sure it was my blood.”
Hamilton said he knew others on his team, such as Sevilla and Gutiérrez (who was second to Ivan Basso, another Fuentes client, in the 2006 Giro d’Italia), were working with Fuentes.
But he admitted the doping secrets were kept close to the chest, even within the same team.
“In general, I spoke as little as possible about doping,” he said. “My biggest fear was something like this happening.”
Hamilton also provided bone-chilling detail of a transfusion gone bad during the first rest day of the 2004 Tour de France. He explained how he became feverish and ill within minutes of the re-injection of his own blood in a French hotel room.
“My worst reaction was during the 2004 Tour. It was a reinfusion that, as far as I could tell, all the blood had been destroyed, that it was not handled properly,” he said. “The reason I knew was that 30 to 45 minutes later when I went to the bathroom, my urine was black.”
Hamilton said he did not know what happened, but said that it was a Phonak team doctor who carried out that infusion instead of Fuentes or cohort Merino Batres.
Fuentes was in France, but when Hamilton discovered media hanging around the team hotel, he tried to find another solution.
“Our hands were tied because we had media all around the hotel,” Hamilton said. “If Fuentes, Merino, or (Alberto) León came into the hotel, it would be a catastrophe.”
Instead, they asked a Phonak team doctor to conduct the transfusion. Hamilton said he could not remember the doctor’s name, but identified him as a “German.” It is likely that the doctor could have been Swiss, as well.
“The (team) doctor was doing me a favor,” Hamilton said of the infusion. “There was a lot of press outside the hotel. We didn’t want Eufemiano coming into the hotel. He had nothing to do with this.”
Hamilton’s testimony cast a bright light on Phonak, which later signed Floyd Landis, who won the 2006 Tour only to test positive for testosterone.
In his book, Hamilton was evasive about what happened during his time at Phonak. His testimony reveals that the team was connected closely with Fuentes.
Other Phonak riders have been linked to Fuentes, including Santiago Botero, who joined Phonak for 2005-06 and raced with Kelme from 1999-2002 and Telekom from 2003-04.
Hamilton stopped short of saying that Phonak team management beyond Pino was involved, in part because none of the attorneys asked him.
A relaxed Hamilton patiently answered questions, but later seemed to grow frustrated as lawyer after lawyer kept their lines of questioning relatively short. Throughout the three-week trial, attorneys have kept their queries to the central question of the Puerto case, which is limited to the narrow legal definition of “endangering public health.”
Spanish prosecutors, meanwhile, only briefly asked Hamilton about doping calendars and his relations with Fuentes.
The attorney from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which requested Hamilton’s testimony, went first, asking Hamilton in detail about where and when he first met Fuentes.
Hamilton said that on his first meeting with Fuentes in March 2002, they discussed blood transfusions as well as the use of EPO, testosterone, human growth hormones, and steroids.
Questioning, however, stopped short on many occasions and Hamilton seemed to want to give more.
For example, Hamilton spoke about how Fuentes’ fees went from “25 to 30 thousand euros per year” from 2002 and 2003 and jumped to nearly “50 thousand” in 2004.
Hamilton said the higher fee was shared among “six or seven” of Fuentes’s top clients to pay for a new, highly equipped blood freezer they nicknamed “Siberia.”
This allowed Fuentes to extract blood and freeze it before re-infusions. In The Secret Race, Hamilton spells out the quandary about how riders were handicapped in the days following blood extractions and how red blood cells begin to die as soon as they are extracted from the human body.
“Siberia” solved the problem of having to rush reinjections back into the body because it allowed Fuentes to store the blood, then extract more blood with alive blood cells, and then re-inject previously extracted blood bags, in a sense keeping the tank “full” rather than having to wait for the body to recover and produce more blood.
Frustratingly, none of the attorneys followed up with questioning along those lines.
Finally, when the judge asked if he had anything else to say, Hamilton simply offered: “Yeah, sorry for breaking the rules.”