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Operation Puerto: The Spanish Federation Will Pursue the Case

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But only under pressure.

D_medium The Consejo Superior de Deportes (CSD) has ordered the Spanish Cycling Federation to pursue sanctions in relation to the Operation Puerto case. An arm of the Spanish government, the CSD issued the order on 12 February. Up until now, the Spanish Federation has made no move to act on the information from the two-year-old Puerto case, which allegedly involves up to 30 Spanish cyclists.

The Federation yesterday formally requested access to the Puerto evidence from Judge Antonio Serrano, who continues to preside over the controversial case. The request included the Guardia Civile report on the case, which identified a number of riders. This report is the oft-mentioned 1000 page report. The press has published portions of the report and the UCI reportedly received a copy, though the cycling union proved either unable or unwilling to act on its contents. Now, the Spanish Federation appears ready to do so.

But the report is not the only evidence available. The Federation will also receive the report from the Barcelona lab, who analyzed the seized blood bags from the case and found eight to contain the banned substance EPO. In a similar process to the Italian case currently pending against Valverde, the Federation will compare the DNA contained in the 90 Puerto blood bags with blood samples from suspected riders. According to today's reports, the blood samples for comparison will come from the UCI. Reportedly, there are also other documents and evidence in the case that will inform the Federation's investigation. Both riders and team officials may eventually receive sanctions in the case, though the Federation has not released any specific names for now.

In Italy, meanwhile, the case against Alejandro Valverde continues. Last Thursday, Valverde and his lawyer attended a preliminary hearing in Rome with CONI. Federico Cecconi, who is leading Valverde's defense in Italy, dismissed the meeting as a courtesy call and told the press that his client had nothing to do with the case. Cecconi admitted that Valverde was "not serene," but remained confident that he could prove his "extraneousness to the facts."

The lead investigator at CONI, Etorre Torri, told a different tale. "I can say with certainty that the blood in sack #18 is that of Valverde," he said after the hearing. Dismissing challenges to CONI's jurisdiction, Torri asserted that Valverde's case was no different than Basso's, and that CONI has sufficient evidence to sanction Valverde. Torri explained that Valverde has 15 days to submit a written defense. If he does not, CONI will suspend him for two years and request that WADA extend the sanction worldwide. For now, CONI has not scheduled any further hearings with the Spaniard.

It seems clear that CONI will proceed against other athletes in addition to Valverde. The Spanish press has speculated that Fränk Schleck could be the next cyclist to receive CONI's scrutiny. Torri confirmed that Italian investigators have 90 blood bags, not all of which belong to cyclists. He declined to name any additional cyclists or to respond to a question about retired footballer Pep Guardiola, who played for Barça and the Spanish National team. The DNA test results are under the custody of the Italian judicial system. Recent Italian legislature has cleared the way for evidence-sharing between the criminal and sports authorities in doping cases.

The Italians have also opened a preliminary criminal investigation against the Spanish rider. The District Attorney in Rome is assembling a case against Valverde for use of doping products. On Thursday, Valverde received a avviso di garanzia, which is a notification that the district attorney has begun a preliminary investigation against him. This step begins a criminal case in Italy. If the prosecutors decide sufficient evidence exists, they then lay formal charges. The notice is intended to allow the accused to prepare a legal defense, should the case progress further. Italian reporter Eugene Capodacqua explains that the criminal case against Valverde is the result of a "complex investigation" conducted by NAS, the Italian narcotics police, throughout Italy and Europe. If convicted Valverde risks up to two years in prison. Because Valverde competed in Italy during the period between 2004 and 2006 covered in the Puerto evidence, he could also face sporting fraud charges.

In the meantime, Alejandro Valverde spent the weekend racing in France at the Tour du Haut Var, where his Caisse d'Épargne team-mate Luis Leon Sanchez won Saturday's stage. Valverde finished 43rd in the final general classification.

The original report on the Spanish Federation's change of course is at as.com. A little more explanation at l'equipe.fr. On the Valverde case, tuttobiciweb.it, sportpro.it.