Operacion Puerto has been a mess, partly because of the rumours that competitors in other sports were protected from further investigation while cycling took the role of the fall guy.

But within the sport of cycling, the way justice has been administered has been inconsistent and unfair. Some have paid a very high price, others have not.

It is almost four years since Manolo Saiz, the manager of the Liberty Seguros team, was arrested by police and the investigation into a Madrid-based blood-doping ring run by a gynaecologist, Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, rocked the sport.

Operacion Puerto ended the career of Jan Ullrich, for example. Others were fired from their teams but resurfaced with smaller squads having avoided suspension. Ivan Basso tried to race on before being forced to admit he had ‘prepared to dope’. He returned to the sport at the end of 2008. There was one rule for one, and a different rule for the next man.

But Valverde, the 29-year-old Spaniard has raced on, avoiding the question and racking up the victories.

In July 2006, he crashed out of the Tour de France on the third stage to Valkenburg but was back in action the following month.

Since then he has won 27 races – including the Vuelta a Espana, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Dauphiné Libéré. He has worn the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, a Spanish national title and a World Championship bronze medal. He has also represented Spain at the Olympic Games. And he has earned millions of euros.

Instead, he should have served a two-year suspension for, at the very least, removing his blood, which is banned.

It has taken the persistence of CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, and the Italian judiciary to get to this point. The Italian authorities used an international accord between police services to obtain access to the blood bags seized in the Operacion Puerto investigation, much to the annoyance of those in Spain who wanted to draw a line under the entire affair.

They have played a long game. When the Tour de France visited Cuneo, in the Italian Alps in 2008, the authorities made sure they blood tested Valverde. Then they claimed to have matched samples from blood bag number 18, belonging to a rider code-named Valv.Piti, to Valverde.

As a result, in May 2009 they banned Valverde from racing in Italy for two years, effectively ruling him out of last summer’s Tour de France, which again crossed the border.

Valverde appealed and so it was left to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to study the case and decide whether CONI was within its right to ban the rider. CAS agreed with the Italians. Now the UCI has confirmed it will seek to extend the ban worldwide, although Valverde continues to protest his innocence.

The question is how the UCI will seek to adapt the ban. Valverde has been suspended from competing in Italy for almost 10 months, but has raced elsewhere. Will the UCI try to impose a two-year worldwide suspension? Or will the governing body settle for less. There’s no clean, easy way to proceed.

For cycling, there is the unpleasant prospect of having to re-evaluate some, or all, of the races Valverde has won since the summer of 2006. By rights he should have served a two-year suspension so should he be stripped of some, or all, of his victories?

How do riders who have been beaten by Valverde feel about losing not just race victories but the prize money and prestige that goes with them?

And what of Caisse d’Epargne, who have stood by Valverde and profited from his victories over the past three and a bit years?

There are a lot of questions to be resolved, but one thing is for sure, it was right that CONI pursued Valverde this far rather than let it drop and pretend it didn’t happen. Cycling has had enough problems to deal with over the past decade or so without settling for a two-tier justice system based on a rider’s nationality.

How Alejandro Valverde has carried on winning while others served suspensions

May 2006
Manolo Saiz is arrested in Madrid. Operacion Puerto is in the public domain.

July 2006
Just before the start of the Tour de France in Strasbourg, the scandal blows up. Several high-profile riders, including race favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, are kicked out of the Tour after they are linked to Fuentes. Rumours that Valverde is the rider referred to as Valv.Piti in documents and correspondence seized from Fuentes are denied. Valverde crashes on the third stage to Valkenburg.

Summer 2006
A number of riders are sacked from their teams and provisionally suspended for their involvement in Operacion Puerto.

September 2006
Won a stage of the Vuelta a Espana at Alto de El Morredero, led the race for a week and finished second overall, behind Alexandre Vinokourov.

October 2006
Bronze medallist in the World Championship road race in Salzburg.

March 2007
Won the Tour of Murcia.

April 2007
Second at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

May 2007
Won a time trial stage of the Clasica a Alcobendas in Spain.

July 2007
Sixth overall at the Tour de France.

September 2007
German authorities try to prevent Valverde from riding the World Championship road race in Stuttgart because of his links with Operacion Puerto. UCI initially agrees but backs down because the ruling is not legally enforceable. Valverde rides anonymously and finishes 56th.

March 2008
Wins a stage and the overall title at the Tour of Murcia.

April 2008
Wins Paris-Camembert, a small one-day race in France, then takes Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

June 2008
Wins the Dauphiné Libéré and the Spanish national championship title.

July 2008
Sprints to victory in the opening stage of the Tour de France in Brest, taking the first yellow jersey of the race. Cycling Weekly asks Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

August 2008
Valverde wins the San Sebastian Classic.

October 2008
A smiling UCI president Pat McQuaid presents Valverde with his prize for topping the ProTour classification.

May 2009
Victory in the Tour of Catalonia is soured by the news that the Italian Olympic Committee [CONI] has banned Valverde from competing in Italy for two years. CONI claims it has done tests that link Valverde to blood bags seized in the investigation. Removing and storing blood with the intention of doping is a banned practice. With the Tour de France set to cross the border into Italy, it puts his participation in the event in jeopardy.

June 2009
Valverde wins the Dauphiné Libéré.

July 2009
The Caisse d’Epargne team does the diplomatic thing and leaves Valverde out of the Tour de France line-up.

September 2009
Valverde wins his first grand tour – the Vuelta a Espana.

February 2010
First victory of the season comes at the Tour of the Mediterranean.

March 2010
Second overall behind Alberto Contador at Paris-Nice.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds CONI’s two-year suspension. As a result Valverde is banned from racing in Italy until May 10, 2011. The UCI confirms it will seek to apply the suspension worldwide.

Related links

Valverde faces worldwide ban after losing appeal against Italian suspension

19 June 2009: Valverde appeals against Italian ban

11 May 2009: Valverde banned from racing in Italy for two years

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  • mr mudgely

    cycling weekly get over it; whats done is done; nobody is going to do anything about it when other big named cycists can get away with it{ mentioning no names} bury the hatchet; start with a clean sheet and ban for life those caught in future for the sake of the sport.

  • k miller

    the continuing saga of operation p is driving me to distraction how long are we to be subjected to the continued bleating of the overley self ritious the investigation has been called a mess that is an understatement . unless positive proof can be obtained the suspition and innuendo continue to make a mockery of rightfull justice .what is the next step shall we dig up fausto coppi and put him on trial ? in the interests of all of us a line should be drawn under the whole sorry business much as i would like to see the guilty brought to book this is proving to be almost impossible wipe the slate clean make sure that the people who are gaining jobs and wages from this nonsence know what they are doing no one should be accused without positive proof . a date should be set in the not to distant future after which anyone who is PROVED to be guilty would be banned from the sport with no chance of gaining any future access to cycling including writing in the press

  • Dave Jones

    Oh Cycling weekly, your really love to put a rider like valvede down. So there has been lots of evidence to pin Valverde to drugs…maybe so,

    But what about Armstrong??? His past tests have been found positive in light of new technology, yet everybody, including your magazine treat him as a hero, who is/was clean!!

    And what about the testimony of ex-team mates and masseurs?

    His links with Ferrari….what about opening an operation Ferrari


  • old hedgey

    I have, quite seriously, heard thatone of the ‘other well-known sportspeople’ is an international footballer. Curiously, he left Spain shortly after Puerto blew open for a club a very long way away. Has been turning out for an Italian team lately. To mention the name could be libellous.

  • Craig

    I’d assume that Cadel Evans will be glad to see the back of Valverde and deservedly so.

  • dave

    As per previous comments the whole thing is a mess with Valverde, simply hiding behind lawyers but making millions. What I can never get my head round is why teams continue to employ him, race organisers let him start and finally why other riders who surely know the true story continue to let him take prize money away from them withot as Paul kimmage stated “spitting in the soup”. All these questionable wins have only enhanced his value but detracted from the sport, but as one TDF winner often states ” I have taken scores of drug tests and never failed” not I do not take drugs, a subtle difference

  • Stuart Grainger

    From what I can see, Valverde never actually protests his innocence, only that the means used to catch him weren’t legal. As you said there’s no easy way for the sport to clear up the mess of previous years (and sometimes it hasn’t been very good at it) but CONI and the UCI should be applauded for their resillience and patience which allowed them to arrive at a pretty unequivical situation (despite Valverde still protesting!)
    It can only be good for cycling if the prevailing mood is that you will get caught and banned, however hard or long the process may be.

  • robin

    The long running Valverde/Puerto saga has been a farce. Everytime I see him in pictures or on the telly racing I feel a rising anger at his continued presence and effectively his mockery of both justice and the trust of the fans.

    I suppose it should come as no surprise that he continues to protest at the process. No doubt he will also protest and take to CAS any UCI ban.

    I now fervently hope that the UCI impose their two year ban. It should be imposed effective immediately expiring in Mar 2012. To retrospectively award races to others is a messy solution – see also Landis TDF.

  • Ken Evans

    “Operacion Puerto has been a mess,
    partly because of the rumours
    that competitors in other sports were protected from further investigation…”

    Some high placed people in the Spanish establishment chickened-out.

    WHY ?