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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for March 21, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Spanish newspaper takes aim at judge who shelved Puerto

By Monika Prell

Guardia Civil find blood bags
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Only a few days after he shelved the criminal proceedings against the persons accused in the sweeping Spanish doping case known as Operación Puerto, judge Antonio Serrano has been the subject of a highly critical article in El Pais, the Spanish newspaper that originally broke the story back in May last year.

Serrano shelved the case based on a legal argument that the suspects named or identified in Operación Puerto did not commit an offence in Código Penal terms (the Spanish penal code). When the investigation started in May 2006, doping was not a criminal offence in Spain. However, at the time, the revelations of OP led to a firestorm in cycling, with favourites such as Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich being dramatically pulled from the 2006 Tour de France on the eve of the race.

The case has dragged on and while the International Cycling Union (UCI) claims to still have the capacity to carry out sanctions against those riders named in the journals and records of Madrid-based Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, the case has been effectively shelved by the Spanish judiciary.

The decision by the Spanish judge has led to some harsh analysis of his work, as the Spanish newspaper alleged the judge had made several errors in his handling of the case. According to the paper, he permitted the Guardia Civil to do wiretaps of phone lines so its officers could continue with their investigations, considered a violation of the Spanish citizens' rights when there is no indication of an offence.

Serrano, who at the beginning of the proceedings was willing to question more than 50 cyclists about their relationship with Doctor Fuentes, the treatments they received from him and if they suffered from health problems following the treatments, halted the query on the grounds that if someone was suffering any health problems due to doping practices, the rider could have voluntarily stopped.

Further, according to El País, Serrano never questioned the highly outspoken Spanish cyclist Jesús Manzano and denied the request to send the medical history of a cyclist who, years ago, suffered a cerebral disease due to the synergistic effect of the use of EPO and vitamin A.

The paper states that he also refused a request to send the medical history of alleged suspect Marcos Serrano, who was a rider of Manolo Saiz's Liberty Seguros-Würth team, when he was hospitalised during the 2006 Giro d'Italia, which Serrano considered not connected with Operación Puerto.

The Spanish paper points out that Serrano was opposed to DNA exams to identify the blood bags nor did he allow the use of information contained in mobile phones or SIM cards. This meant that many rumours, like the implication of other sportsmen in football, tennis or athletics, could not be proved.

Finally, El Pais noted that Serrano was not interested in the clarification of the cases of Santiago Pérez and Tyler Hamilton, who both tested positive to homologous blood transfusion - same blood type, different donor. Allegedly, they were both clients of Fuentes and their blood was stored in his refrigerator. The paper alleged that Serrano did not investigate the only plausible explanation; that the blood bags had been confused and that the both cyclists were lucky that their blood groups were compatible. To date, former teammates Hamilton and Pérez are the only two cyclists to have tested positive for homologous blood transfusions.

The reaction in Spain to news of OP's legal limbo has been swift and caustic. "Now you can say we're getting it from all sides," an unnamed cyclist said to El País. "The cheater says that the shelving is like exoneration, like proof that they were innocent, so that they will continue doing what they did before, and even with more impunity. A further difference will between us, who are riding cleanly, and them. They will not only beat us again, no, they will also laugh at us."

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'

May 18, 2009 - Valverde to start Catalunya
May 15, 2009 - Valverde not welcome in Denmark
May 14, 2009 - Spanish federation wants proof in Valverde case
May 13, 2009 - Spanish Olympic Committee defends Valverde
May 12, 2009 - Valverde responds to sanction
May 11, 2009 - Italian tribunal delivers Valverde two-year suspension
May 8, 2009 - Valverde case: Italian Olympic Committee defends Torri
May 7, 2009 - Valverde to take legal action against CONI prosecutor
May 5, 2009 - WADA and Spanish federation join CONI and UCI on Valverde
May 1, 2009 - International Cycling Union joins in on Valverde's hearing in Italy

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of Operación Puerto

ProTour meeting to take place in mid-April

UCI expresses some concerns over honouring of agreement

By Shane Stokes

Following the agreement reached on March 5th between the UCI, the IPCT and the Grand Tour organisers regarding the ProTour, a date for the next meeting is currently being finalised between the parties concerned.

Under the terms of the agreement, meetings will take place each month. The next session will take place in mid-April, with the exact date to be agreed shortly. Prior to that, the UCI will have a meeting with the UCI ProTour Council (CUPT) on April 5th. It is expected that the ProTour deal will be discussed here, along with the UCI's concerns that the spirit of the agreement is not being fully respected.

"We made an agreement on the fifth of March and I am not satisfied that the parties have adhered strictly to their word, as such," said UCI President Pat McQuaid on Tuesday to Cyclingnews. "I will bring it up at the next meeting that we have [with them] in the middle of April. I have already indicated to the other parties that the UCI is not happy with that situation."

McQuaid declined to get into the specifics of what the UCI is unhappy about, but it is likely that the continuing ambiguity over Unibet.com's participation in races is a big issue. In a recent interview with Cyclingnews, Vuelta a Espańa race director Victor Cordero remained uncommitted to allowing the team into the Spanish Tour, despite the wording of the March 5th agreement. In that peace deal, the parties said that, "without prejudicing their right to grant wild cards to all other teams of their choice, for the duration of this agreement ASO, RCS and Unipublic will examine in a positive spirit the granting of wild cards to the teams Astana and Unibet, in particular insofar as such decisions are not likely to expose or be likely to expose the organisers to legal consequences, of whatever nature they might be."

The sponsor Unibet.com has encountered legal difficulties in France but does not have the same problem in Spain. However, despite that, Cordero suggested that the team could still lose out.

"Unibet is not in our plans, but fortunately, as we are not forced by the rules to give the wildcards on March 1 like last year, we can wait up to three months, until the end of May, beginning of June [before we decide]. The last word it is not yet said.

"If Unibet has all its legal problems solved, if it improves upon the performances and conditions of the other six candidates... It is not Unibet alone, we have six candidatures for riding the Vuelta a Espańa. We will make the decision mainly based on sporting criteria. Up to today, I don't see Unibet in the Vuelta."

The UCI made several concessions to the Grand Tour organisers at the March 5th meeting and will be keen that each one of them honours the agreement. Despite the concerns, McQuaid said that he hoped the deal would prove to be the correct way forward for the sport.

"As far as we are concerned the ProTour continues and we will continue to work and develop it. There are a lot of discussions to take place during the year and hopefully within that time we will come up with an acceptable solution to the ProTour."

Unibet missed out on riding Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, but will have a place in Milan-Sanremo this Saturday.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

Klöden: the first German in Tirreno

Klöden in final Tirreno stage
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Yesterday, Andreas Klöden won the final classification of the Tirreno-Adriatico and by doing so became the first German to have his name in annals of the race after 42 years of existence. Klöden has the pedigree, having won Paris-Nice in 2000 and finishing third in the 2004 Tour de France.

Compliments came from all over the world, including from the team's sponsor. Sunday the President of Kazakhstan called to praise the work of Klöden and team star, Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov.

"This win is important because it is the first with my new team; they are more and more convinced that they made a good investment," said Klöden after the stage to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

He will return to racing in the Critérium International, starting March 31, facing the likes of Damiano Cunego and Alejandro Valverde, but his training is focused on the Tour de France.

"In this race [Tirreno] I marked a point in my favour," said the 31 year-old German, who raced with T-Mobile up until the end of last year. "Who will be the captain between me and Vinokourov [at the Tour]? It is impossible to say now."

Petacchi determined for Sanremo

Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

"Sanremo will be another story," said Alessandro Petacchi of Milram after the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. The 2005 Milano-Sanremo winner wanted to leave his mark on the Corsa dei Due Mari but was denied the chance. Yesterday, he was force out of action, when, at two kilometres to go Erki Pütsep (Bouygues Telecom) crashed directly in front of him.

"I had lost my teammates in the curve beforehand, but still I was not too far back," continued the 32 year-old to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Then the crash of Pütsep; I did not have to put my foot down but I had to restart from almost a standstill and I found myself at the back of the group."

Ale-Jet had an abbreviated train, with only Alessandro Cortinovis, Fabio Sacchi and Marco Velo; Erik Zabel retired before stage six and Volodymyr Dyudya was out of action due to the flu. "I would have liked to win a stage," continued Petacchi, who in 2004 scored three wins in Tirreno. But this year there were not really many opportunities on offer; stage one, which Robbie McEwen swiped with shrewdness, stage two, ruled by Alexandr Arekeev's escape and Tuesday's final stage.

Petacchi has passed nearly a month since his last win (a stage in Vuelta Valenciana) but, in view of Sanremo, this Saturday, he is not worried. "It is not worth it for me to risk more than I have to, especially if I could crash. I am coming off a period where I have suffered a lot, I am still missing something in the sprint, a certain insecurity remains."

Gianluigi Stanga, Milram Team Manager, confirmed his sprinter's strength. "He is very well physically, even if he still has to do a little more work because he is coming off a season of half-service. If we lose Sanremo we will lose it in a spirit. Alessandro has all of the cards he needs to arrive in the sprint."

Last year Petacchi was there on the Via Roma for the sprint but he was foiled by Filippo Pozzato, who had escaped on the Poggio. During the last week in Tirreno the two were able to size each other up. "He is going strong," said Petacchi of Pozzato. But Petacchi thinks that he is going even better, pointing towards his race sensations.

"I did not think that I would come here and go so well on the climbs. I feel great, I never arrived dead or tired [after the stages], and I recovered with ease. The Cipressa and Poggio are less difficult than the climbs we faced here, and I have the resistance. I am confident."

Quick-Step and Caisse d'Epargne for Sanremo

This Saturday Quick-Step will send a strong team to support Tom Boonen and 2004 winner Paolo Bettini in the Milano-Sanremo. Backing the two riders will be Carlos Barredo, Kevin Hulsmans, Sébastien Rosseler, Matteo Tosatto, Kevin Van Impe and Giovanni Visconti, with Director Sportif Serge Parsani.

Caisse d'Epargne will send Eric Berthou, Imanol Erviti, Marco Fertonani, Pablo Lastras, Alexei Markov, Mathieu Perget, Vicente Reynes and José Joaquín Rojas to La Classicissima, with Director Sportif José Luis Jaimerena.

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