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Operation Puerto, Again: CONI Opens Investigation on Valverde

D_medium Operation Puerto lives on and on. Today, the Italian anti-doping authorities announced that they have opened a formal investigation of Alejandro Valverde. CONI claims to have proof that Valverde corresponds with the Valv-Piti nickname found in the Fuentes files. Reportedly, the evidence comes from a DNA match between a blood sample taken during last year's Tour de France and the stored blood bag in Spain labelled with Valverde's alleged codename.

The 2008 Tour de France briefly passed into Italian territory during the sixteenth stage which finished at Prato Nevoso. On the evening after that stage, Italian anti-doping authorities carried out a number of out of competition tests, including Valverde and five CSC riders. CONI reportedly used the blood test from Valverde to carry out a DNA test against the Fuentes evidence. On the basis of this new evidence, they have decided to open an investigation against the Spanish rider.

According to CONI, Valverde has violated section 2.2 of the WADA code, "use or attempted use of a prohibited substance or method." Note that a ride need not actually use blood doping to violate the WADA code, but only "attempt" to use. The Basso case provide the precedent in this context. If CONI can prove its case, the violation carries a two year suspension.

In Italy, the Valverde case has never sat well. While Italian star Ivan Basso sat out for two years after conviction in the Puerto case, Valverde continued to win races. Few in Italy believed that Valverde was innocent in the Puerto case. The Spanish authorities have all along proved slow to act on the Puerto evidence. So, too, has the UCI. It remains to be seen whether CONI can prove its case against Valverde, or indeed, whether the UCI and Spanish Federation will recognize a suspension handed down by CONI. The case of Manuel Beltran offers reason for doubt, though the WADA and UCI rules are clear that a suspension by one is a suspension by all.

Source, Gazzetta dello Sport.

Update: Valverde has issued a statement in response to the Gazzetta report that CONI has called him for a hearing. He said he is "willing to cooperate," but is "surprised and indignant" to hear of the investigation through the press. According to the statement, neither the rider nor his team had received official word from CONI as of today. Valverde also denied having returned any "abnormal" test values. The Murcian also reminded the press that since the Puerto investigation began, he has repeatedly declared his willingness to offer samples for comparison to the Spanish evidence, if a "competent authority" requested it. Valverde is currently racing in Mallorca, where he suffered a crash "without grave consequences" in Tuesday's stage.

Neither the Spanish judiciary nor the Spanish Federation has ever requested additional samples or sought to compare the DNA of the accused riders with the existing evidence. According to Gazzetta, CONI has now done so, and discovered a match between Valverde and the Valv-Piti blood bag, which contained not only blood cells, but also traces of EPO. If CONI can make its case - and they might want to start by notifying the rider officially - the violation carries a two year suspension.