By Andrew Hood
If Alejandro Valverde was hoping for a quiet off-season, he was wrong.
Representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency were expected to meet Monday with Court of Arbitration for Sport officials in connection with an effort to try yet again to secure a racing ban for the beleaguered Spanish rider for alleged links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal.
Officials from both the UCI and WADA said last week during the Third World Conference on Doping in Sport in Madrid they were “considering their options” about what to do with Valverde, who they insist is linked to the alleged blood doping ring.
Spanish media was reporting that WADA would be asking for a two-year racing ban for Valverde.
“From what we’ve seen of the file, there’s more information about (Alejandro) Valverde than there was about (Ivan) Basso,” McQuaid told VeloNews. “The Italian federation took the initiative and pressured Basso on DNA sampling and he eventually confessed. The Spanish officials are doing the opposite. They seem to be protecting the athletes.”
UCI officials Monday expressed their support of WADA efforts to impose a racing ban against Valverde.
“The UCI has always confirmed that the case of Valverde is not closed,” UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told VeloNews. “The UCI will support WADA in an appeal to CAS.”
During last week’s doping conference, UCI and WADA officials made a point of saying that the earlier CAS decision has no bearing on whether they might pursue a Puerto charge against Valverde.
“The CAS decision (in September) was based on a very narrow question regarding his participation in Stuttgart,” said WADA president Dick Pound. “That does not preclude further action on our part.”
Spanish cycling officials, however, insist there’s no clear evidence linking Valverde to alleged ringleader, Eufemiano Fuentes, and have refused to open a disciplinary hearing.
Spain’s governmental sports council has also cleared Valverde of links to Puerto.
A Spanish judge has officially closed the Puerto case, saying that under existing rules, no laws were broken despite raids in May 2006 that revealed an elaborate doping conspiracy allegedly involving more than 50 pro riders. There are still criminal charges being considered, however, and a Spanish court ruled that until those are settled, sports and doping agencies will not be allowed to use Puerto evidence in connection with their administrative actions.
“That just means that we have to wait,” said McQuaid. “Sadly, it means that there will be more cases involving cyclists, dragging the process on for much longer than we had imagined. It’s damaging to the sport, but we have to pursue every case in which we have evidence. To do otherwise, would be much, much worse for all concerned.”
A tough, new anti-doping law approved this year in Spain cannot be retroactively applied to the Puerto case, though the case is being appealed by Spanish prosecutors with support of the UCI.
So far, Valverde has been able to continue racing despite what UCI officials insist is strong evidence against the Caisse d’Epargne rider.
Earlier this fall, efforts by the UCI to stop Valverde from racing the Stuttgart world championships in September fell short when CAS ruled, “a ban imposed on a cyclist, not yet recognized as guilty as doping … constituted a form of advance sanction.”
Speaking to reporters following an exhibition race this weekend in Spain, Valverde said he’s prepared to fight to defend his innocence.
“Why will I not race next season? No one’s told me anything. CAS already supported me once, but it’s always with the same old story,” Valverde said. “What’s happening is that UCI is very stubborn. We shut them up once and we’ll have to do it again.”
VeloNews.com editor Charles Pelkey contributed to this report.
Savoldelli to LPR; Di Luca, too?
Two-time Giro d’Italia champ Paolo Savoldelli wants to make it three maglia rosas after signing with Italian continental team, LPR, for the upcoming season.
Savoldelli said he was confident that LPR would receive a wild-card bid to start next year’s Giro that would allow him a run at the Giro hat trick.
“I’m very happy to be with the team and I confident the team will be at the big events,” Savoldelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “This is a smaller team, but one at a high level. We can make things happen here.”
The 34-year-old left after one season at the troubled Astana team despite the arrival of former Discovery Channel boss Johan Bruyneel in an effort to clean up the team’s image.
The Italian sports daily also reported that beleaguered defending champ Danilo Di Luca could also be joining the team. Di Luca was slapped with a three-month ban for maintaining relations with controversial doctor Carlo Santuccione with a sanction that’s not considered a doping ban.
Di Luca was dropped by his team of the past three seasons, Liquigas, following his alleged links to the “Oil for Drugs” doping investigation in Italy. Several top level, ProTour teams are nervous about signing Di Luca, who could face further charges by Italian investigators.
Larsson to CSC
Another Unibet.com rider has found a ride for next season.
Gustav Larsson, who rode with the now-defunct Unibet.com team this season, has penned a one-year deal to join Team CSC for 2008.
The Swedish national time trial was solid this year with top-10 spots in Deutschland Tour, Tour de Luxembourg, Tour Down Under and third overall in the Eneco Tour
“Gustav has a really interesting profile and I think he’ll be a big asset to us,” Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis said on the team’s web page. “Apart from his time trial skills he’s also solid in the mountains and this year he’s delivered impressive results throughout the season. I think he’ll fit in well with the rest of the guys and he’s definitely got huge potential.”
Larsson, 27, is one of a handful of riders from Unibet.com to find rides for next year. Scores of riders and staff have been left on the street following the team’s controversial demise this season.
The team was refused entry to all three grand tours as well as major one-day events despite being part of the 20-team ProTour league.
Major race organizers insisted the team’s main backer – one of Europe’s largest online betting sites – broke existing laws in France and Italy that didn’t allow for non-national betting firms to advertise. That was largely seen as an excuse to challenge the UCI directly over the ProTour system.