By Andrew Hood
Comunidad Valenciana – the continental team which has taken more licks than most in the fallout of “Operación Puerto” – received some good news late last week from the Spanish courts.
The team was notified that none of 13 riders supposedly implicated in the ongoing police investigation have any pending legal action against them, essentially clearing them of allegations that have dogged the team since mid-May.
Thirteen riders were cleared after a court secretary notified the team with an official document dated July 28. The riders cleared include: Vicente Ballesteros, David Bernabéu, David Blanco, José Adrián Bonilla, Javier Charro, Javier Gomis, David Latasa, Manuel Lloret, José Luis Martínez, David Muñoz, Antonio Olmo, Javier Pascual Rodríguez and Rubén Plaza.
The news comes on the heels of some bad news for the team. Title sponsor Comunidad Valenciana announced it would not continue its support of the team following the end of this season after the Vuelta a España announced last Thursday the team would not be allowed to take the Aug. 26 start of the season’s third grand tour.
“There is no one involved in the doping scandal and the person that was, Ignacio Labarta, has had the Ethics Code applied to him and he’s no longer on the team,” team manager Vicente Belda told Europa Press.
Belda reiterated his intention of taking his team’s claims to the courts to try to gain back its wild-card berth in the Vuelta. The team also lost its invitation to race the Tour de France after Labarta, an assistant sport director, was among five people arrested in mid-May as part of the alleged doping ring.
Also last week, Spanish courts cleared riders five Astaná riders – Joseba Beloki, Isidro Nozal, Sergio Paulinho, Allan Davis and Alberto Contador – of any connection to the ongoing investigation.
The team was cleared to resume racing and hit the roads in Sunday’s Vattenfall ProTour race in Germany.
Basso wants August return
Ivan Basso – another one of the riders implicated in “Operación Puerto” – said he wants to return to competition as early as this week and hinted he might line up to defend his title at the Tour of Denmark, set to start Wednesday.
Basso was among nine riders from four teams who were kicked out of the 2006 Tour de France after alleged links to the Spanish doping investigation were made public just days before the opening prologue.
The 2006 Giro d’Italia champion was one of the top favorites for overall Tour victory, but he was sent home after alleged connections to controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Basso has vigorously maintained his innocence and told Italian television he wants to get back to racing his bike.
“I want to return to as soon as possible, perhaps in the first week of August because if I don’t begin to race, it will difficult to make a strong final part of the season,” Basso told Italian television over the weekend.
Unlike Jan Ullrich, who was fired by his T-Mobile team after links to Fuentes were leaked to the media, Basso was never suspended or fired by his Team CSC. His name did not appear on the team’s web page among eight riders scheduled to start the Tour of Denmark.
Basso’s return is dependent on the Italian cycling federation, which was scheduled to receive documents from the UCI last week outlining any alleged links between Basso and Fuentes in the Spanish investigation.
Each cycling federation is handling any possible sanctions against each respective rider involved in the Fuentes case. Riders could receive a two-year racing ban if clear evidence of doping is uncovered. If not, they would be cleared to resume racing immediately.
“I have passed through some rough days,” Basso recounted. “I counted on my family and my fans, who never stopped believing in me. I will come back for them, stronger than ever.”
Despite reports of a rupture, Basso said he’s maintained contact with Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis and hopes he can continue with the team.
Astaná for TdGermany
Astaná will line up at Tuesday’s start of the 2006 Tour of Germany with a team looking for revenge.
The squad was forced out of the Tour de France after five of its members were implicated in the Spanish doping affair, leaving the team two short of the required six it needed to officially start.
That meant overall favorite Alexandre Vinokourov has spent the past month stewing over how he is going to wreak his revenge. Vino’s anger has further been fueled by news last week that the five banned Tour riders have since been cleared by Spanish authorities of any links to the alleged doping ring.
The team also reported that negotiations continue for the sale of the team to Kazakh authorities from current owners, Active Bay, the holding company owned in part by ex-team manager Manolo Saíz.
Saíz was among five people detained by Spanish authorities in mid-May and has since left the team.
Astaná for Tour of Germany, Aug, 1-9Carlos BarredoAssan BazayevAndrey KashechkinSergio PaulinhoJosá Antonio RedondoLuis León SánchezAlexander VinokourovSergey Yakovlev
Astaná for Circuit de Getxo, July 31Carlos AbellánDariusz BaranowskiAaron KempsKoen de KortDaniel NavarroJosé Joaquín RojasEladio SánchezIván Santos
Two items from the French peloton: Christophe Laurent, currently on Agritubel, signed a deal to join Credit Agricole. FDJeux’s Freddy Bichot, meanwhile, will join Agritubel.