By Andrew Hood
Tyler Hamilton will start next month’s Giro d’Italia—at least, that’s what his Tinkoff Credit System management insists in the face of growing pressure to suspend riders linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal.
The names of both Hamilton and new addition Jörg Jaksche showed up in police documents released by Spanish authorities last May, but Tinkoff officials denied reports in the Italian media that the team has sidelined the two riders ahead of the May 12 start of the Giro.
“For me, Tyler and Jörg can start the Giro. Stories that they are suspended are not true,” Tinkoff general manager Omar Piscina told VeloNews on Monday. “Tinkoff has a list of 12 riders that can go to the Giro. Tyler is on that list and we expect him to race.”
The Puerto scandal returned to haunt cycling earlier this month when German authorities matched DNA samples taken from 1997 Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich to nine of nearly 200 bags of blood and plasma confiscated by police last year.
On Wednesday, defending Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso will face new questioning from Italian authorities over his alleged links to the Puerto scandal. Discovery Channel announced earlier Monday that Basso quit the team of his own accord.
Over the weekend, officials from the three grand tours – the Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Giro – agreed to not allow Puerto riders toparticipate in any of their respective races.
Giro officials contacted by VeloNews on Monday said they are waiting for the outcome of Wednesday’s Basso hearing before making any final decisions.
Piscina, meanwhile, said he hasn’t received any notification from either Giro organizers or from the UCI. Until he hears otherwise, both riders remain part of the team’s Giro plans.
“Since Tyler came to our team Jan. 1, the situation hasn’t changed. Now all of a sudden people say he cannot race or he is suspended. This situation for me is incredible,” Piscina said. “We are waiting for the UCI or another institution to take responsibility for this situation. No one has told me a rider cannot start. No one has sent me documents. There are no police investigating them. Right now we have nothing.”
These latest revelations have brought new attention to the nearly 60 names of riders linked to the Puerto documents. Among those were Hamilton and Jaksche, who saw their names splashed in headlines last year in the worst doping scandal to hit cycling in a decade.
Hamilton’s name appeared in Spanish police documents under the codenames “41-42” and “No. 11” as part of evidence confiscated in raids of Madrid apartments used by alleged ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. Jaksche was listed under a codename, “Bella.”
Piscina admitted the situation could change in the coming days, especially if there’s bad news coming out of the Basso hearing.
“If the situation changes in the coming days, then we must make adjustments, but we do not suspend Tyler,” Piscina said. “Why should we suspend Tyler? His name appears on a list, but it’s the same list that was from last year. There is no case against him. He has a license to race. I only know what I read in the newspapers. My mother reads the newspapers too, and today, the newspapers are not correct.”
Hamilton denies he’s had any knowledge or contact with Fuentes. When VeloNews reporter Jason Sumner asked him about Puerto at the recent Tour de Georgia, Hamilton angrily denied knowing the controversial Spanish doctor.
“Take my hair if you want. Do whatever you want. For me it’s all done. Nobody has ever called me about Operación Puerto. Nobody sent me any questions. People are welcome to call me. I don’t know this guy – Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes,” Hamilton said. “I’ve never met this guy. If somebody has a question, please ask me. Sure they’ve sent my name out to the press and I’ve basically gotten railroaded. But they haven’t asked for my hair. If you want my hair, take it.” Hamilton then plucked a hair from his head and offered to Sumner.
The UCI forwarded documents to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last fall. No action has been taken. Hamilton could face a lifetime ban if evidence is found of organized doping, UCI officials have said.
Hamilton is aiming for a podium finish at the three-week Giro as part of his return to competition following his controversial positive doping test during the 2004 Vuelta a España.