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By Andrew Hood
The future of Alejandro Valverde’s professional career hangs in the balance as he’s set to appear before Italian authorities on Thursday for his alleged link to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal.
Prosecutors from the Italian Olympic committee (CONI) agreed to an additional 24-hour extension, not the requested 48 hours, and said the rider is expected to appear by Thursday at 5 p.m., according to reports on the Spanish wire services.
Valverde’s legal team, led by Federico Cecconi, known for defending other Italian cyclists accused of doping charges, successfully asked for a 48-hour extension earlier this week
Italian prosecutors are trying to link Valverde to the Puerto scandal that blew the lid open on an alleged wide-spread blood doping ring in 2006.
Authorities are hoping to prove that Valverde worked with alleged ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes by matching blood samples taken in Italy during the rest day in the 2008 Tour de France, a day following the stage to Prato Nevoso.
Authorities are expected to argue that the blood taken during the anti-doping controls match samples confiscated during Spanish police raids on Fuentes’ labs in May 2006. A bag numbered “18” with the label “Valv-Piti” is thought to belong to Valverde, authorities claim.
CONI officials insist they have jurisdiction on the case despite the fact that Valverde races with a Spanish license. Their claim of jurisdiction is based on the fact that the blood samples which linked Valverde to samples seized in the Puerto case were drawn at an Italian stage stop during last year’s Tour de France.
Italian authorities are especially keen to charge Spanish riders because, so far, only riders from Italy and Germany have faced racing bans for links to the blood doping ring that alleged included nearly 60 riders.
Ivan Basso, the 2006 winner of the Giro d’Italia, served an 18-month ban after admitting to CONI officials that he “intended” to blood dope in collaboration with Fuentes.
Scores of other riders have been implicated in the doping scandal without being officially sanctioned.
German rider Jan Ullrich was forced into retirement while Francisco Mancebo – winner of a stage at the Tour of California this week – couldn’t find a contract with a major European team until joining Rock Racing. Mancebo won the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California and spent a day in the leader’s jersey before losing it to Levi Leipheimer on Monday.
Spanish cycling federation officials have not pursued racing bans, arguing that its hands are tied until a Spanish court closes legal proceedings.
In further action, a Spanish court has ruled to re-open the Puerto case after twice ruling to close it only to lose in appeal and is expected to take verbal testimony from up to eight people arrested during the 2006 raids. Hearings could begin as early as May.