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Valverde Hearing Complete, Decision Due in March

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D_mediumAfter three days of hearings, the sports arbitration court (TAS-CAS) in Lausanne has adjourned to deliberate. In a key decision, the court declined to consider the question of extending Valverde's two year ban beyond Italy. The arbiters ruled that issue outside the scope of the present case, which focuses specifically on the legitimacy of the Italian sanction. The arbiters consider cases under appeal from the ground up, and over the last three days, they heard testimony from several key figures in the Puerto case and from the Italian anti-doping organizations. They expect to hand down a ruling on the legality of the Italian sanction against Valverde in March. If the court upholds the Italian sanction, the decision would open the way for the UCI and WADA to extend the Italian sanction world-wide.

On Wednesday, the Court heard testimony from Jesús Manzano, who rode for Kelme concurrently with Alejandro Valverde. Manzano described doping as a "way of life" for riders on the team. The former professional confirmed that Fuentes provided riders with EPO, testosterone, and other doping products. Valverde also spoke to the Court on Wednesday. The Spanish rider is currently in Australia preparing to start the Tour Down Under. Valverde denied the evidence offered by Manzano. He called Eufemio Fuentes, the controversial doctor at the center of the Operation Puerto case, "the brother of his personal doctor and that's all."

One of the now-classic memes of the Puerto case also resurfaced on Wednesday. What was your dog's name? Valverde denied having ever named his dog Piti, the alleged code name used for the rider in records kept by Fuentes. Quique Iglesias is a journalist for AS in Spain, and he interviewed Valverde at home in 2006. Inglesias confirmed that he had met the canine in question, and it did indeed carry the name Piti.

Throughout the torturous proceedings against Valverde, the rider's lawyers have claimed that the Italians received the evidence against the rider illegally. In response, the Italians have pointed to the cases against Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi, in which the Spanish handed over the evidence pertaining to the two Italian riders. According to testimony this week, Valverde's name appeared among the documents CONI received in relation to Basso and Scarponi. In particular, the evidence transferred to Italy included a bit of hotel stationary listing riders by real name, as opposed to code names, and which linked them plainly to Fuentes. The willingness of the Spanish Judge Serrano to transmit documents in relation to Basso and Scarponi is probably the strongest argument against Valverde's claims that the Italian sanction is illegal.

Last, but certainly, not least, the Court heard testimony from anti-doping experts who examined the contents of the Piti blood bag. As you may recall, testing of the blood revealed traces of EPO. The Arbitration Court revisited that aspect of the case this week. The Court also retraced the path of the evidence from the blood bag from the WADA laboratory in Barcelona, where an Italian hematologist examined it, to the Italian anti-doping authorites (NAS), and finally to Rome, to the office of the chief prosecutor. In a press release issued today, Valverde asked the Court to carry out a new DNA comparison in a nuetral laboratory "outside the country of Italy."

In a press release issued today, the Court announced that "a final decision in this matter is not expected until March 2010." In the meantime, it appears that Valverde will continue to race, since the ban remains only in effect in Italy. If the Court upholds the ban, the UCI should extend it, because UCI rules require a ban in one country to apply to all member countries. Of course, these things are never as simple as the rule book might suggest, and it's likely that there are a few more legal maneuvers to play out before this story comes to an end.

—Sources, Gazzetta dello Sport, Sportpro.it, As.com, and press release from TAS-CAS.org. Multiple articles in each.