Operation Puerto case goes to court in Spain

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01/24/2013| 0 comments
by AP and Roadcycling.com
Lance Armstrong, Alejandro Valverde and Michael Rasmussen Fotoreporter Sirotti

Operation Puerto case goes to court in Spain

Just days after Lance Armstrong's doping admission, professional cycling is set for more damaging revelations when the long-delayed Operation Puerto case finally goes to court in Spain.

case implicated more than 50 cyclists - including Contador, Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Alejandro Valverde - in the use of performance enhancing substances or practices.

The most high-profile witness is Contador, who was stripped of a third Tour de France title and banned for two years for testing positive for clenbuterol en route to winning the 2010 Tour de France.

Contador has since had to negotiate with the UCI and the Court of Arbitration for Sport about the size of the fine to be paid when the court rejected his assertion that the positive doping sample he provided originated from eating contaminated beef.

Contador is scheduled to testify on February 15. Contador is refusing to comment on the case ahead of the Operation Puerto trial.

Hampered by the legal shortcomings of the trial, particularly that suspects cannot be charged retroactively for doping crimes, Spanish judges have twice tried to drop the case.

These actions have scarred Spain's reputation for combating doping just as Madrid is bidding to host the 2020 Olympics.

"Justice shouldn't be this slow. It manifests the inefficiencies of the Spanish judicial system," Esteban said. "This case in particular has taken far too long. It was difficult to place the events (under investigation) within the legal framework existing at the time, because blood isn't medicine. It generated a lot of doubts that had to be cleared up."

The government has since taken action to criminalize doping and current Sports Minister Jose Ignacio Wert has said legislation is making its way through parliament.

If found guilty of endangering athletes' health, the defendants could stand to lose their professional licenses and face two years in jail. They could avoid jail time and receive suspended sentences, Esteban said.

Valverde is the only Spanish rider who has been punished based on Operation Puerto evidence. German cyclist Ullrich chose retirement in the face of the police discoveries and Italian cyclist Basso's implication led to a two-year ban.

Valverde was banned worldwide after a CAS panel accepted WADA and UCI arguments that he doped with the blood-boosting hormone EPO and was connected to the Operation Puerto investigation. Valverde led cycling's world rankings when his suspension was confirmed in 2010.

At the heart of the case is the process of blood doping or blood packing.

Fuentes allegedly stored bags containing high concentrations of hemoglobin-rich red cells taken from the riders' own blood so it could be re-injected in competition when they needed a performance boost.

Bags were labeled with codes, some based on the names of riders' dogs. Basso was "Birillo," Jorg Jaksche of Germany was "Bella."

Although he denied it, Valverde owned a dog called Piti, the arbitration court heard. And Piti was the code on a bag containing blood plasma which DNA tests confirmed was his.

Fuentes is alleged to have used centrifuges to separate red blood cells from the plasma they normally float in, enabling riders injected with them to enjoy a significant boost.

Manzano, one of the plaintiffs, is a retired cyclist who turned whistleblower after suffering medical problems he said were

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