By Andrew Hood
UCI president Pat McQuaid said he expects the Operación Puerto doping investigation to haunt this year’s Tour de France and other major races.
With reports of a larger, 6000-page dossier poised to be released by Spanish authorities, The Associated Press reported that McQuaid said it might take the rest of the year to fully digest the mountain of new evidence and documents as part of the ongoing investigation.
Until then, cycling’s governing body might not be able to do much to keep riders out of racing action because it needs more time to figure out which riders might be sanctioned and which riders won’t.
“There is no way we have the eyes to go through these 6000 pages and determine who is guilty and who is involved in some way or another,” McQuaid told reporters in Copenhagen. “There is no way we can be finished before the end of this year. They are the practical issues which make it difficult for us with the best will in the world.”
The Puerto investigation has been haunting cycling since Spanish police arrested five people last May. Originally, some 57 riders were alleged to be linked to what’s believed to be a widespread blood doping ring.
Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and seven others were kicked out ahead of last year’s Tour de France and the scandal has recently come back into the headlines after DNA samples matched Ullrich to bags of blood confiscated by Spanish police.
A Spanish judge shelved the case in March, but prosecutors have appealed the decision.
This week, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that another 49 riders could be implicated in a new report that’s set to be released by Spanish authorities.
McQuaid said the UCI is waiting a decision on the appeal before it can get its hands on the additional evidence.
“We don’t know of 49 names because we have never seen the files,” McQuaid said. “We don’t know what is in there. … There is no way to know that until the (Spanish) judge makes his decision” in the appeals case, AP reported. McQuaid admitted to reporters that Puerto could come back to haunt the Tour de France again this year, but said the UCI might not be able to stop Puerto riders from starting the Tour this year despite the wishes of Tour organizers to keep implicated riders out of the race.
“Legally, they can’t stop them. UCI riders can race,” he continued. “Morally I agree completely with the Tour and morally it would be better if the riders in the Puerto (probe) would not be there.”
Bettini to show off rainbow jersey at Giro
Reigning world champion Paolo Bettini will be brandishing the rainbow jersey at the Giro d’Italia. Bettini will headline the QuickStep-Innergetic squad for the season’s first stage race.
Bettini, a winner of two Giro stages in his career, said earlier this year he’d love to trade the rainbow jersey for the maglia rosa during the first week of the Giro.
“I realized a long time ago I would never win the Giro,” Bettini said in interview earlier this year. “I want to get the leader’s jersey, but it could be complicated with the team time trial starting the race. A stage victory at least would be nice.”
QuickStep-Innergetic for Giro d’ItaliaPaolo BettiniAddy EngelsMautro FacciLeonardo ScarselliHubert SchwabAndrea TontiMauro TosattoJurgen Van de WalleGiovanni Visconti
Euskaltel taking sprinter to Giro
Perhaps in a sign that all ProTour teams can’t field competitive teams across the entire ProTour calendar, Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi is bringing a young, inexperienced squad to do battle in the Giro d’Italia.
With team leaders Haimar Zubeldia and Samuel Sánchez saving their legs for the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, the team is left without a major contender for the Giro.
Their top rider will be sprinter Koldo Fernández de Larrea, who won a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
Euskaltel-Euskadi for Giro d’Italia (May 12-June 2) Koldo FernandezAitor HernandezJoseba ZubeldiaAntton LuengoBenat AlbizuriMarkel IrizarIvan VelascoAketza PeñaDioni Galparsoro Asturias tour a Spanish affaire
Mostly Spanish riders will duke it out for honors in the five-day Vuelta Ciclista a Asturias, set to start Thursday in northern Spain. The 807km route slices over the hilly region and features the Alto del Acebo in Saturday’s “queen stage.”
Relax-GAM lines up with defending champ Oscar Sevilla as the team brings no less than four riders implicated in the Operación Puerto investigation (Sevilla, Santi Pérez, Francisco Mancebo and Angel Vicioso).
Other riders expected to challenge for the GC are ex-Discovery Channel rider José Azevedo (Benfica), Felix Cardenas (Barloworld), Koldo Gil (Saunier Duval), Victor Hugo Peña (Unibet.com) and David Bernabeu (Fuerteventura).
A total of 16 teams will lineup, with five foreign teams and 11 Spanish, but only three ProTour teams with Saunier Duval, Unibet.com and Euskaltel. Foreign teams include Barloworld, Benfica, Acqua e Sapone, Selle Italia and Unibet while the rest are Spanish continental teams.
51st Vuelta Ciclista a AsturiasStage 1: Oviedo to Llanes, 150km Stage 2: Llanes to Avilés, 168kmStage 3: Cafés Toscaf to Alto de Acebo (summit finish), 180kmStage 4: Cangas de Narcea to Gijón, 158kmStage 5: Gijón to Oviedo, 149km
Liquigas won’t suspend Paolini, for now
Liquigas officials say they won’t sideline Luca Paolini even though he could be implicated in an ongoing doping investigation in Italy. Paolini saw his house searched in police raids last fall as part of a larger investigation called Operazione Athena that involved several gyms in northern Italy.
The team released a statement Wednesday saying that for now, they’re allowing the Italian to race:
“As there are no news about the guarantee advice notified to Paolini last September, and there are no elements which can deny the negative result of the perquisitions (sic) made into the rider’s house (as written in the verbal perquisition (sic) promptly sent by the rider to his team), up to now Liquigas Sport does not want to take disciplinary measures against the rider.
“Liquigas Sport confirms that, even if objections about Paolini are not the same as the ones of other judicial events, whether there is a demand for committing for trial by ordinary magistracy or there is an inquiry by the CONI anti-doping commission, the rider will be submitted to suspension, waiting for the development of investigations.”
T-Mobile continues to investigate doctors
The two lead doctors from the elite T-Mobile cycling team are to be investigated by the Freiburg justice department over allegations they gave cyclists performance enhancing drugs according to Thursday’s edition of Suddeutsche Zeitung.
Wolfgang Meier, the Bavarian prosecutor general, said his department was taking very seriously accusations made by a former masseur of the team, Jef d’Hont.
D’Hont claimed the two doctors Andreas Schmid and Lothar Heinrich supplied the team with EPO during the 1996 Tour de France which was won by team member Bjarne Riis.
“The information available to us has encouraged us to pursue the investigations,” said Maier.
Maier’s decision comes after a recognized expert in the battle against doping, Werner Franke, brought a complaint against them for “breaking the law on medicines.”
Franke made his move after the allegations made by d’Hont, who worked for T-Mobile’s predecessor Telekom from 1992 to 1996.
D’Hont claimed that both Heinrich and Schmid organized masking agents for EPO and injecting team members with EPO during the 1996 Tour de France, which aside from Riis’ triumph also announced the arrival of disgraced German star Jan Ullrich, who worked selflessly for his Danish teammate.
Heinrich and Schmid are still the heads of the medical department of T-Mobile, who restructured their team following the scandal that enveloped Ullrich, who has been linked to Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
D’Hont apparently faces little legal redress from the two doctors according to Suddeutsche Zeitung, who quoted Hans-Hermann Dickhuth, director of the sports medicine department at Freiburg’s university hospital where the two doctors are resident.
“Doctor Schmid gave me the impression that these revelations could be a problem,” said Dickhuth.
By Agence France Presse