By Andrew Hood
Alejandro Valverde vows to race this weekend in France despite facing a possible two-year racing ban and even jail time in Italy for his alleged links to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal.
Valverde appeared before Italian authorities on Thursday, but is scheduled to race with his Caisse d’Epargne teammates in this weekend’s two-day Tour du Haut Var in France starting Saturday.
The beleaguered Spanish rider continues to protest his innocence to allegations leveled by Italian authorities that insist Valverde is implicated in the Puerto blood doping ring that was uncovered by Spanish police in May 2006.
Valverde testified for 45 minutes before Etorre Torri, prosecutor for the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), during a hearing in Rome.
CONI officials say that DNA proof that samples taken during the rest day in Italy after the stage to Prato Nevoso in the 2008 Tour de France and bags confiscated in Spanish police raids in 2006 belong to Valverde.
Italian officials have created a stir by reaching across national boundaries to prosecute Valverde and are not only threatening Valverde with a possible racing ban, but possible jail time as well, the Spanish daily AS reported Friday.
Under Italian law, “sporting fraud” can also equate to time behind bars along with competition bans.
Ivan Basso – the 2006 Giro d’Italia winner – also faced jail time, but confessed to attempted doping with alleged Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes and avoided time behind bars. Basso is coming off an 18-month racing ban and is currently racing in the Tour of California.
Italian officials have given Valverde’s attorneys two weeks to prepare a defense.
Despite the heavy pressure from Italian authorities, Valverde continues to proclaim his innocence and has been listed as a starter by his Caisse d’Epargne team in this weekend’s Haut Var race in France.