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First Edition Cycling News, February 20, 2009

Edited by Sue George

CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict

By Shane Stokes

The lawyer for Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde, Federico Cecconi,
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The endless "is he, isn't he?" saga concerning Alejandro Valverde and codename "Valv.Piti" appeared to have moved a step closer to a definitive decision on Thursday when the Italian Olympic Committee CONI announced that it had proved a DNA match between the Spanish rider and blood bag number 18, seized during the Operación Puerto raids in May 2006. The bag was later found to contain EPO.

"We can say with certitude that the blood in bag number 18 belongs to Valverde," said anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri after the doping hearing held Thursday in Rome's Olympic Stadium. He also stated that documents obtained by CONI proved a link between the Caisse d'Epargne rider and the controversial doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

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CONI announced last Wednesday that it was investigating Valverde on the basis of a DNA match with a blood sample taken when last year's Tour de France entered Italy.

The sample was obtained in a surprise anti-doping swoop carried out the evening of Sunday July 20, where stage 15 finished at the summit of Prato Nevoso in Italy. The Spaniard was tested and so too were several riders from the CSC Saxo Bank team, including the-then yellow jersey Frank Schleck (CSC Saxo Bank). The Luxembourg rider has denied doping despite admitting that he transferred a sum of money to Fuentes.

Valverde had won a stage and earlier worn yellow in the race; he was also second on stage six to Super Besse but stood to be promoted to first there after the disqualification of Italian rider Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) for doping with CERA.

Upon arriving in Italy on Thursday, Valverde was placed under criminal investigation. The Spaniard was informed that the separate probe had been opened when he arrived at Rome's Olympic Stadium for his hearing.

Links to Spanish doping probe

Italian Olympic Committee's anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The Caisse d’Epargne rider has continually denied being the rider codenamed as "Valv. Piti", notwithstanding the clear similarities to his surname plus the fact that he has a dog named Piti.

Fuentes, who was at the centre of the Operación Puerto doping ring, had used the names of riders' pets as the basis for some of the codenames. He previously treated Valverde when the rider was part of the Kelme team, but the latter maintains he did not dope then or at any point in his career.

The UCI clearly has grounds to believe otherwise, having attempted to bar him from riding the 2007 world road race championships in Stuttgart due to the Puerto evidence. This was dismissed by CAS, but the world governing body told Cyclingnews on Thursday that it would weigh up the case against the Spaniard if CONI pronounces him guilty.

This could potentially lead to a complete ban on the rider. "Once a decision is taken by a national antidoping autority, the UCI will review it," said its spokesman Enrico Carpani. "If everything has been made accordingly with the rules, we will also recognize and enforce it worldwide."

This is the same procedure used by the UCI in enforcing the recent AFLD decision to ban the Spaniard Manuel Beltran for two years. The then-Liquigas rider tested positive for EPO during last year's Tour. German rider Stefan Schumacher failed a test for CERA and learned on Thursday that he too was facing a two-year ban. It is expected that the UCI will also verify this shortly.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by AFP Photo

Manzano unhappy with Puerto handling of Valverde and other Spaniards

By Monika Prell

Ex-professional Jesús Manzano
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)
Jesús Manzano, ex-cyclist and former teammate of Alejandro Valverde with Kelme in 2002 and 2003, gave an interview to the Spanish newspaper AS, in which he talked about the Operación Puerto, organized doping within his team and Alejandro Valverde. Spanish cyclist Valverde is in the subject of a criminal investigation by with the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI), which is investigating his alleged ties to the Puerto affair.

Manzano expressed his irritation about the practices of the Spanish authorities. "In Italy, things are done with persistence; meanwhile in Spain, they are left unfinished. Here (in Spain), the judge did not ask for the comparison of DNA (of Valverde with the blood bag number 18). There (in Italy) they did, and everything has moved forward. But here, we have a judge who opened and closed the case several times. It has brought no information, it is a circus."

Asked if there was organized doping in his Kelme team, Manzano answered, "Prior to the Vuelta [a España] in 2003, we had a training camp in Alcalá de la Selva. And everybody – except one who was doubtful- went to the hospital of Merino Bates. Let's see if now people think that I was the only rider to take something."

According to AS, the Kelme riders who participated in that edition of the Vuelta a España were Óscar Sevilla, Alejandro Valverde, Carlos García Quesada, José Enrique Gutiérrez, David Latasa, Toni Tauler, Constantino Zaballa, Francisco Cabello and Manzano.

"They gave the same things to Valverde as to me," said Manzano, who made similar claims in June of 2007. "When we shared a room and they gave me something, then they gave him, too. And if I had to go to a judge to swear this under oath, I would do so. Let's see if a judge will call me."

"In the team, there was organised doping, and when they gave something to me, then [they gave] even more to the leaders."

Manzano is unhappy about the Spanish attitude toward riders linked to Operación Puerto. "There are some involved people who now are riding in second tier teams and who go on with the same habits, but different doctors." The ex-rider lamented that the top riders are protected by the Spanish authorities.

"Is there nobody whose attention was attracted by this 'Valv.Piti'? In Italy, if they have to punish [Ivan] Basso, they punish Basso. Here, if a top rider is of concern, they protect him," said Manzano.

Schumacher protests innocence, vows to fight suspension

Schumacher in a 2008 Tour de France time trial
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Stefan Schumacher continued to protest his innocence and vowed to fight on, even after being suspended for two years by the French national anti-doping laboratory AFLD. The suspension, which was announced Thursday, was based upon his positive tests for CERA, a new generation of EPO, during the Tour de France.

He released a statement on his website Thursday evening, addressing the issue. He said that the decision "is a shock for me and leaves me stunned. It's not just that the proceeding was a farce," and claimed that the AFLD and its president, Pierre Bordry, had made up their minds as to his guilt before even starting.

Continuing to insist, "I have not doped," he said that he would appeal "this unprecedented proceeding and the unbelievable verdict" in French courts. "I assume that I will find in the French courts a judge who, as compared to the AFLD's commission and president, will observe legal standards and offer me a fair trial."

"One thing is for sure: I will not give up," he continued. "I want to, and will, continue to ride. This sport is my passion and my job. I am fighting for my rehabilitation and appeal to everyone not to base their opinion of me as a person on this AFLD verdict, which disregards rights and the law."

"To accept the scandalous verdict of the AFLD would be the end of fairness. It would mean that I accept that athletes can be at the mercy of others, without protection. All that I want is a fair hearing. Then I can finally prove my innocence."

"I will not give up and will fight for my rights to the end."

Sastre suffering but optimistic in California

Carlos Sastre (Cervelo TestTeam)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)
After suffering from the flu prior to the Tour of California, Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre made it through a wet and cold first half of the Tour of California. He crashed in stage one, but was not injured and soldiered on to race again in the sunnier, warmer conditions of stages four and five. Despite tough conditions, Sastre kept a positive outlook.

"The Tour [of California] has been very hard and fast from the start. Although I'm not feeling that great, I am thinking of the future and attempting to use this race as preparation. It's true that I'm suffering a lot, and I'd have preferred to come into this race under other conditions."

"Success motivates us, and I know this suffering is helping to improve my form," said Sastre. "In stage four, we found the sun again. It felt good and everyone appreciated it after three days of racing in the rain."

Sastre may have been referring to the success of his teammate Thor Hushovd, who sprinted to victory in stage three. Teammate Serge Pauwels also spent most of stage four off the front toiling in a breakaway. On Wednesday, Heinrich Haussler secured his first victory of 2009, racing for the team at the Vuelta a Algarve's opening stage in Portugal.

"What is positive for me is seeing how my teammates work together and how they struggle in different races all over the globe. Although we are a new team, we are getting victories that motivate us to do better. This is keeping me focused on achieving my goals." Sastre intends to defend his Tour de France title in July.

Pineau ok after domestic accident

Team Quick Step's Jerome Pineau suffered a nasty, domestic accident Wednesday that could have had terrible consequences.

"I was handling the battery of my scooter when, all of a sudden, it slipped out of my hands," said Pineau. "A splatter of battery acid splashed into my right eye. The pain was terrible."

"Thankfully an eye specialist lives near me and was able to visit me right away. He reassured me that my eye was ok, and that I hadn't damaged it. That was a relief because, as soon as it happened, I couldn't see a thing."

After the incident Pineau decided to take the rest of the day off. "I'll wait and see how things are tomorrow morning," he said, "then we'll decide whether I can take part or not in the Haut Var this weekend."

Katusha team to check out Giro d'Italia stages

Team Katusha has set aside next Monday, February 23 and Tuesday, February 24 to visit the roads that will be part of two stages in the Giro d'Italia coming up in May.

The team will check out stage 19 which will run 164km from Avellino to Vesuvio as well as stage 21, the final, 15.3km individual time trial in Rome.

Filippo Pozzato and his teammates will reconnoitre key details while training, and Pozzato said he is looking forward to rediscovering his passion for time trialing, a discipline he often enjoyed during the early years of his career.

Wegmann and Knees to lead Milram at Haut Var

German Champion Fabian Wegmann
Photo ©: Patrick Reed
(Click for larger image)

Team Milram is looking forward to its first-ever start in the Tour du Haut Var on February 21-22. Directeur Sportif Vittorio Algeri will take eight riders to southern France, including all-arounder Christian Knees and two-time German National Champion Fabian Wegmann.  

For 2009 the one-day race has changed its format. For the first time, the champion will be crowned after two stages and 365km. The first will cover 181km from Saint-Raphael to Grimaud while the second will go 194km in Callian in southeastern France.

"This is a challenging race with many climbs. We are sending our all-arounders, so that they can find their racing rhythm," said Gerry van Gerwen, manager of Team Milram.

"That is especially important in light of the upcoming first big races of the season, such as Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and of course Milano-Sanremo.  Nevertheless, it is still our priority to be at the front in every race, so we will present ourselves that way in the Tour Haut Var."

Since the race was begun in 1969, only one German has ever won the Tour du Haut Var: Rolf Gölz in 1987. 

Team Milram for the Tour du Haut Var: Johannes Fröhlinger, Christian Knees, Dominik Roels, Thomas Rohregger, Matthias Russ, Ronny Scholz, Peter Velits, Fabian Wegmann

Landbouwkrediet-Colnago Cycling team for Tour du Haut Var: Bert De Waele, Koen Barbé, Bert Scheirlinckx, Geert Verheyen, Frédéric Amorison, David Boucher, Mathieu Drouilly, Martial Ricci Poggi

Liquigas and other teams target Laigueglia

Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)
Team Liquigas will shift its focus from Toscana to Liguria for the 46th Trofeo Laigueglia on February 21. Among the eight riders selected for the race by directeur sportif Stefano Zanatta are Manuel Quinziato and Roman Kreuziger, who will return to competition after a long training period and some racing in Mallorca. Murilo Fischer will also resume racing after the recent birth of his son Luca.

"There will be fierce competition," predicted Zanatta. "But Manuel, Roman and Murilo have the chance to make it to the end as protagonists. We want to keep a lot of our riders at the front of the race and at the right moment, give a burst to go for the win."

"A surprise attack could be the key, especially if there is good motivation. I'm sure that Fischer already knows to whom he would dedicate a win," said Zanatta, referring to the rider's new baby.

Oliver Zaugg will join them, racing for the first time in Liquigas colors.

Several other teams also announced their rosters for the race. Katusha's Filippo Pozzato is among those looking forward to the race.

"I specifically asked to my management to do the Laigueglia, even though I am only finish up the Vuelta a Andalucia today," said Pozzato of Liquigas. "I like this race very much, and I hope to do well."

Liquigas for Trofeo Laigueglia: Murilo Fischer, Roman Kreuziger, Manuel Quinziato, Valerio Agnoli, Gianni Da Ros, Aliaksandr Kuchynski, Ivan Santaromita and Oliver Zaugg.

Team Katusha for Trofeo Laigueglia: Filippo Pozzato, Luca Mazzanti, Pavel Brutt, Mikail Ignatyev, Alexander Serov, Sergey Klimov, Evgueni Petrov, Ben Swift. Sport director: Serge Parsani.

Aeronautica Militare-Amica Chips-Knauf for Trofeo Laigueglia: Leonardo Bertagnolli, Igor Astarloa, Branislau Samoilau, Hilton Clarke, Giuseppe De Maria, Holy Anza, Michal Golas and Robert Kiserlovsk.

Ceramica Flaminia - Bossini Docce for Trofeo Laigueglia: Antonio D'Aniello, Cristiano Fumagalli, Leonardo Giordani, Dainius Kairelis, Alessandro Maserati, Diego Nosotti, Enrico Rossi, Luigi Sestili.

Olympic medallists claim Madison title

Beijing Olympic medallists Marc Ryan and Jesse Sergent won the 40km Lion Foundation New Zealand Madison Championships in Wanganui on Thursday. The pair was pushed all the way by fellow Olympic cyclists Sam Bewley and Wes Gough, with the two teams putting two laps on the nine-strong field in the 40km race at Cooks Gardens.

Bewley flatted on just the fourth lap, but some slick work enabled him to rejoin the pack. He and Gough then went immediately on the attack with Sergent and Ryan going with them. The Olympians put a lap on the field after 55 of the 160 lap race, and continued to charge, putting a second lap on their opponents on lap 95.

A strong chasing bunch of five teams then formed to fight out for the third place although it did not stop Ryan and Sergent from another attack. Bewley and Gough managed to respond to each surge from their fellow BikeNZ team pursuiters. However Ryan and Sergent managed to open a half lap advantage with 40 laps remaining until the field came back together.

Ryan and Sergent pulled back a final attack from under-23 riders Eliot Crowther and Patrick Bevin and proved too strong in the final sprint to cross the line in front ahead of Bewley and Gough. Shane Archbold and Tom Scully got up for third place ahead of Archbold and Scully.

The New Zealand Omnium title will be decided on the second night of racing on Friday in Wanganui.

(Additional editorial assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer.)

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