Contador To Be A Witness As ‘Operation Puerto’ Case Re-Opens

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by Christophe Lehousse

MADRID, Jan 26, 2013 (AFP) – Former Tour de France winner Alberto Contador
will be among those who will give testimony to a Spanish court which will open
hearings on Monday into the ‘Operation Puerto’ doping scandal, seven years
after it erupted in 2006.

The trial in Madrid, will do little to boost the credentials of a sport
still reeling from Lance Armstrong’s admission that he cheated his way to a
record seven Tour de France wins.

In the separate Spanish case, a sophisticated doping network was blown wide
open on May 23, 2006 when Spanish police raided several apartments and a
laboratory in Madrid and seized around 200 bags of blood.

A number of top cyclists, including Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and
Contador, and Italian Ivan Basso, were implicated.

On the same day, police arrested doctors, sporting directors and trainers
suspected of taking part in the doping scheme.

From Monday, five people will have to answer charges of an “offense against
public health”, including the suspected mastermind of the network, 57-year-old
doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

The other four are Fuentes’ sister Yolanda; former Liberty Seguros cycling
team director Manolo Saiz; and former Comunitat Valencia cycling team chief
Vicente Belda along with his deputy Jose Ignacio Labarta.

The case against the network’s alleged blood expert, doctor Jose Luis
Merino Batres, has been provisionally closed on the grounds that he has
Alzheimer’s.

The five defendants are charged with endangering public health rather than
incitement to doping, which was not a crime at the time of the arrests. A
Spanish anti-doping law was passed only in November 2006.

The distinction between the two charges is likely to be pivotal.

The prosecutor, who is seeking a two-year prison sentence plus a two-year
professional ban for the accused, will have to show the performance-enhancing
blood transfusions put the riders’ health at risk.

Fuentes, who has always described himself as a doctor who simply wanted to
help athletes, flatly denies this.

In his written defense, a copy of which was published by leading daily El
Pais, the Canary Islands doctor said the blood and plasma were stored in
“ideal conditions”.

“None of the athletes in this case have been been harmed,” he said.

Former cyclist Jesus Manzano, scheduled to testify on February 11, is
however expected to argue the contrary. He has claimed he received blood
transfusions.

Manzano, a former rider on Spanish team Kelme, of which Fuentes was then
the head doctor, was sacked after the 2004 Tour of Spain after being
discovered with a woman in his hotel room.

He subsequently revealed the extent of doping in the Spanish team, claiming
he had been taken to hospital on the 2003 Tour de France after collapsing on
the stage to Morzine in the French Alps.

Another witness will be Contador, the Tour de France winner in 2007 and
2009 who has returned to competition after a two-year ban for testing positive
to the banned substance clenbuterol, which he blamed on a contaminated steak.

The 30-year-old Contador, due to appear February 5, was initially linked to
‘Operation Puerto’ but was later cleared of any involvement by a Spanish judge
and the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Although a number of top cyclists were implicated in the affair, initial
reports, as well as Fuentes, said other athletes — primarily tennis players
and footballers — had been involved.

Those statements were later retracted.

The investigators’ final report contained a list of 58 clients, all
cyclists.

Of them, only six have suffered sporting sanctions: Valverde, Germans Jan
Ullrich and Joerg Jaksche and Italians Basso, Michele Scarponi and Giampaolo
Caruso, who was later acquitted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The investigating judge, Antonio Serrano, closed the case twice, in 2007
and 2008, on the grounds that the doping-related allegations were not illegal
at the time and that the small amounts found of blood booster EPO
(erythropoietin) did not constitute a health risk.

The Madrid Provincial Courts obliged him to re-open the case.

Spain now is preparing a new anti-doping law aiming to harmonize its
legislation with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s anti-doping code.

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