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By Andrew Hood
Valverde simply works harder
It seems a day doesn’t go by without someone accusing beleaguered defending ProTour champion Alejandro Valverde of being linked to the Operación Puerto doping investigation.
Spanish authorities have never publicly connected Valverde to the alleged blood doping ring orchestrated by Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, but some are insisting that codenames and bags of blood rounded up in police raids last year correspond to the Spanish phenomenon.
The latest was a full-page interview published this week in L’Equipe with Spanish cycling whistleblower Jésus Manzano (see story below), who said Valverde was “up to his neck” in the Puerto scandal.
Speaking to the Spanish sports daily MARCA, Valverde once again denied he’s involved.
“I can’t understand why they do this now,” Valverde said about the L’Equipe interview. “They’re only doing it because they know it’s the only way they can get at me. I’ve said a long time ago that I worked with Fuentes when I raced with Kelme, but it was just as a rider/doctor relationship that’s normal on any team. That happened a long time ago. I am tired of talking about this matter.”
Valverde continues to prepare for the Tour de France and is scheduled to start next week in the Dauphiné Libéré as his final pre-Tour warmup event. Last week, he and key Caisse d’Epargne teammates inspected the stages in the Pyrenees while they’re set to ride the important Alps stages this week.
“All this business just makes me work harder,” Valverde said. “I will be ready for the Tour.”
Record audiences for Giro
The 2007 Giro d’Italia enjoyed banner crowds along the roads as well as an impressive number of television viewers. An estimated 125,000 people clogged the summit of Monte Zoncolan, a remarkable number considering the road was closed to all car traffic.
TV viewership was up from 2006, with about 2 million viewers per day for daily broadcasts during stages, with an average increase of viewership of 6 percent during the three-week Giro run. The record day was the Tre Cime climbing stage, with more than 5 million viewers for the decisive mountain stage.
The Giro’s official website also enjoyed increases, with 2.8 million unique visits during the race.
Some 980 journalists were accredited for the Giro, 78 more than in 2006, while some 335 photographers documented the race, up by 19 from last year.
“It’s good to see the Giro becoming popular again. We had large crowds and the riders could feel the energy,” said race winner Danilo Di Luca. “It’s still not as popular as when Pantani was winning, but it’s coming back.”
Cofidis leaving cycling
Longtime French cycling sponsor Cofidis has told team officials to start looking for a new sponsor because the French phone credit network will not extend its sponsorship when its contract ends at the conclusion of the 2008 season.
According to reports on the French wires, Cofidis patron and cycling fan Francois Migraine cited rising costs of the ProTour requirements as well as the fallout from the so-called Cofidis Affaire that swamped the team in 2004.
T-Mobile confirm for Irish tour
T-Mobile have confirmed their entry for the new Tour of Ireland cycle race, event organizers confirmed Wednesday.
Mark Cavendish – the rising sprinter talent from the Isle of Man – and Brit Roger Hammond will headline the T-Mobile squad for the return of the popular Irish tour, set for Aug. 22-26. Others expected to start include Jakob Piil, Axel Merckx, Servais Knaven and triple world road time trial champion Michael Rogers.
“It’s great to have the team on board,” said event organizer Alan Rushton. “They have a real focus on teamwork and are famous for the pink train on the front of the peloton heading into town in the final kilometers as they set things up for the team sprinter.”
More Manzano missiles
Jésus Manzano – the ex-pro turned whistleblower on alleged widespread doping in Spanish cycling – was back in the news again this week.
The 29-year-old is a divisive figure in Spain. He often demands money for his tell-all interviews and critics say he’s nothing more than a professional liar who earns a living off hurting the credibility of a sport in which he wasn’t good enough to make it.
Others see Manzano as a lone voice in the Iberian wilderness, as one of the few Spanish ex-pros who’ve publicly admitted to using banned performance-enhancing products.
Manzano continues to offer his spin on the underworld of doping in cycling and told L’Equipe in an interview this week — ahead of a court appearance in Italy where he’s helping investigators — that he thinks Alejandro Valverde is “up to his neck” in the Operación Puerto doping scandal.
He dropped a few more bombs, too. Here are more excerpts from the Manzano interview:
When asked about Manolo Saíz, the ex-Liberty Seguros team manager who was among five people arrested last May, Manzano expressed pessimism that the cycling hasn’t seen the last of the former ONCE boss.
“Don’t fool yourself. He’ll be back. For the moment, he’s worried about recuperating his money, then he’ll return,” Manzano said. “After that, he’ll let time pass by and then he’ll begin again to find new sponsors. These new sponsors will ignore who he is and look the other way.”
Manzano also accused the Spanish cycling community from being “corrupt top to bottom,” leveling charges that a Spanish lab certified by the UCI tipped off teams when doctors were coming for pre-stage blood screenings.
“I want to give you an example, something I’ve never spoken about except to the police up until now. It concerns one of the four Spanish Laboratories credited by the UCI. This laboratory, which is in charge of sending the UCI ‘vampires’ to take the samples during the Vuelta and other races, is the same lab that’s in charge of the doctor visits to the cyclists, they follow the cyclists and give them the stamp of approval on their licenses,” Manzano told L’Equipe. “The owner of this clinic, a renowned hematologist, called Walter Viru, who is one of the doctors for Kelme, to alert them the day before the UCI vampires were coming to take the samples from the cyclists.”
The L’Equipe reporter asked, “Are your certain of this?”
“I experienced it in 2002 and 2003 during the Vuelta. I gave the police have all the details and the name of the clinic. Even better, I remember one time Viru, who had acquired the Russian EPO, wanted to know the purity of it before he used it. And so he gave a vile of it to this clinic and had them confirm it was good. An important detail, this laboratory is still accredited by the UCI. When I talk about the mafia, I don’t use this word lightly.”
Manzano went on to attest that José Maria Jimenez, who died of a heart attack in 2003, suffered a tragic death due to his dependence on performance-enhancing drugs. He said substance abuse is common among some in the peloton.
“Of course, like it killed Pantani. The drugs lead you to other addictions. The anti-depressants almost automatically accompany other doping treatments. I took up to eight pills of Prozac a day when I was racing,” Manzano said. “Prozac cuts the appetite, keeps you in another world, a world where you’re not afraid of what you’re doing. You’re no longer afraid to inject yourself with all the crap. It takes you to a world where you don’t ask any more questions, especially you don’t ask your doctor questions either or your sporting director. Then one day all of the sudden it stops and you become dramatically depressed. Look at Pantani, Vandenbroucke and all the others we don’t even talk about. There are numerous other cyclists and former cyclists that are addicted to cocaine, heroin and other medications.”
When asked how cycling can solve its problems, Manzano had an easy answer:
“Fire all the sporting directors. (Bjarne) Riis is showing the example. It’s good that he admitted (to doping). Now he has to make the next step, which is to quit the sport. How can he be taken seriously? He’s admitted to doping and now he wants us to believe he’s going to go back to cycling and this is supposed to make us believe drugs won’t be used anymore? There’s only one solution – he must leave!” Manzano said. “And along with him, all the sporting directors who have been working for the past 10 years have to quit also. They’re the responsible ones. The directors are the ones who blackmail the cyclists. They put pressure on the riders to take the EPO and all the drugs and the cyclists can’t refuse if they want to ride for the team. These directors are the ones who prolong the system and little by little pressure the pros into it. First you go slowly, then you fall slowly, then you realize you’ve thrown everything away. They say to you, ‘Here’s your choice: you do want we say or you’re done cycling.”
Manzano says he’s bitter about his experiences and no longer follows the sport very closely.
“It was my dream, my life. Today I’m completely indifferent to it. How could it be otherwise? When I see Valverde, Mancebo or Sevilla win, I know what’s going on. And that kills my love for the sport,” he said. “Cycling is corrupt. You can see that on the side of the roads. There’s nobody left cheering on the cyclists except for the Tour. Even the cows aren’t duped.”