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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

News feature, May 24, 2006

Spanish cycling speaks out over Saiz

By Les Clarke

Manolo Saiz finds himself at the centre
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

After his arrest and detention on doping charges, along with four others, Manolo Saiz has been the hottest topic in Spanish cycling during the last 24 hours. Various figures involved in the administration of cycling in Spain have expressed their views on the situation, including Spanish Cycling Federation president Fulgencio Sánchez, Association of Professional Cyclists boss José Rodriguez, Kelme director Vicente Belda and Vuelta a España director Victor Cordero.

The Court of Instruction number 31 in Plaza Castille, in Madrid, is coordinating the operation together with the Central Operating Unit (UCO) of the Civil Guard, which specialises in matters of drug trafficking. The investigation has been going on for several months, and has included phone taps.

Before the arrest of Saiz and four others, the UCO searched three residences in Madrid; two flats belonging to Eufemiano Fuentes and the clinic of José Merino Batres, plus another residence in San Lorenzo del Escorial belonging to mountain biker Alberto León. Another flat was investigated - that belonging to José Ignacio Labarta, the assistant sports director of Comunidad Valenciana, in Zaragoza.

As reported by Efe, in an apartment belonging to Fuentes, approximately a thousand doses of anabolic steroids and hormones were seized, along with two hundred packets of blood, products to manipulate it, machines to freeze it and material to perform transfusions.

The clinic of José Merino was allegedly used for the blood transfusions of cyclists, athletes and other sportsmen, and Fuentes has links to the centre in his capacity as former doctor for the Kelme team. This is because the clinic was mentioned in the investigation involving former Kelme rider Jesus Manzano; the allegations made in that case were subsequently dismissed, however.

Spanish sports newspaper Marca has seized upon these recent developments and established reader hotlines to air public opinion as to whether they believe Saiz innocent or guilty. Officials of the sport have made more reserved statements, however; most have stated they believe Saiz to be innocent until found guilty of being involved with doping activities.

Fulgencio Sánchez and the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) have stated they weren't involved in the detention of Saiz, adding that they have no established relations with those carrying out the investigation. "I'm remaining neutral [on the matter]," said Sánchez. "We don't want this sort of thing for the image of cycling, because this is what damages us. For what reason we deserve this, I don't know," he said.

José Rodriguez, as president of the Association of Professional Cyclists (ACP), said overnight that, "It's bad news for cycling," and added, "Although you expect to know the reach of the investigation, it's news that blurs a good season so far." He recognised the need for there to be full disclosure of the investigation's outcomes, but nevertheless a scandal such as this can only be harmful to the sport.

As race director of the Vuelta a España, Victor Cordero had to deal with the disqualification of one of Saiz's riders, Roberto Heras, due to doping, during last year's Vuelta, but maintains Saiz is innocent; he does recognise that these activities must be punished, however. "Whoever does this [doping] has to pay, but I trust in his [Saiz's] innocence until a judge says anything to the contrary," said Cordero. He added that, "This is a blow for cycling and it disappoints me both personally and professionally. Although at times I've had disagreements with [Saiz], I wouldn't wish this on anybody."

Communidad Valenciana boss Vicente Belda was not so diplomatic, and said that, "This is a stab in the back for cycling." Belda also said he believes that justice will prevail in the case, having dealt with similar allegations in the Jesus Manzano episode several years ago, adding that people who say, "Spain is a paradise of permissiveness" are wrong. He wished Saiz all the best "for the sake of cycling".

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