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Old doping ghosts haunting Riis… again

With Tyler Hamilton's new book and explosive allegations, Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis is back to denying his involvement with Eufemiano Fuentes

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SANTILLANA DEL MAR, Spain (VN) — Tyler Hamilton’s new tell-all book is causing headaches for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank boss Bjarne Riis.

In his new book co-written with Daniel Coyle, “The Secret Race,” Hamilton alleges that Riis introduced him to controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who was the center of a worldwide doping ring revealed in the Operación Puerto investigation in 2006.

Riis has refused to respond to journalists’ queries during the Vuelta a España, where team leader Alberto Contador — back from a controversial doping ban for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France, where he rode for Astana — is riding for the victory.

“We are here for the Vuelta,” Riis said Monday. “I have nothing to say.”

Riis, who admitted he used EPO en route to his 1996 Tour de France victory, did speak on the issue earlier this week in an interview with the Danish wire service, Ritzau, denying he knows Fuentes.

The allegations leveled by Hamilton, who raced with Riis in 2002 and 2003 before joining Phonak, are another slight for the Danish sport director and team owner. Riis has repeatedly denied being involved in the Puerto scandal, which linked as many as 60 professionals to a worldwide doping ring.

Hamilton initially denied his Puerto links, but has come clean in his tell-all book, saying he worked in unison with Fuentes to dope up before races and avoid anti-doping controls.

Despite the Puerto scandal unfolding more than six years ago, Riis finds himself in the crosshairs yet again.

Hamilton is one of several riders with links to Riis that have been caught up in the scandal. Ivan Basso and Jorg Jaschke each confessed to working with Fuentes and served a two-year ban as a result.

Fränk Schleck, who tested positive for a diuretic during this year’s Tour de France, escaped a ban, but admitted he paid Fuentes nearly $10,000 for “training advice,” denying ever meeting the Spanish doctor.

Hamilton’s revelations are making major headlines back in Denmark, so much so that two Danish journalists have traveled to Spain to try to confront Riis about the story this weekend.

Riis knows how to weather a storm and has proven quite deft at negotiating controversy. So far, his key sponsors, Saxo Bank and new arrival Tinkoff Bank, say they are standing by Riis.

The Danish cycling federation, however, says it is taking the allegations seriously.

“Riis will have a lot to explain if it’s proven to be a link to Fuentes,” Danish federation president Tom Lund told Sporten. “Riis could have a big problem if it’s true.”

The Hamilton allegations come on the heels of the recent ruling by the U.S. Anti-doping Agency to hand Hamilton’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Lance Armstrong a lifetime ban and call for the UCI to strip him of all seven of his historic Tour victories. Hamilton was a witness in the USADA case, and the previous federal case, which prosecutors dropped in February without lodging charges.

The Armstrong flare-up has distracted media attention away from what’s been a very exciting Vuelta, with Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez, the 33-year-old Spaniard with a clean doping record, facing off against Contador and another Fuentes customer, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

The ghosts of doping past are still clearly causing problems for today’s peloton and once again, Riis is garnering attention he would rather not have.