Alejandro Valverde has responded strongly to the accusations made by the Italian Olympic Anti-Doping Committee [CONI] about his possible links with Operaction Puerto.

According to the Spanish and Italian press, CONI sources have claimed that a blood bag corresponding to the name Valv. Piti, has been linked to Valverde via DNA samples taken after a stage of last year?s Tour de France.

Valverde acknowledges a blood test was carried out on him, and all of the Caisse D?Epargne team, by Italian doctors after the Prato Nevoso stage of the 2008 Tour, in Italy.

But as for any links between himself and Puerto? Valverde remains adamant that?s not possible.

The Spaniard even told the newspaper AS on Thursday that ?they [CONI] canot have that bag [blood bag number 18 from Operacion Puerto] because that bag does not exist.?

?It?s all untrue. I?ve had no official summons [from CONI to make a statement]. But if I get it, I?ll go to Italy, no problem.?

Valverde also pointed out that he has had hundreds of blood and urine tests over the last few years, and that his whereabouts was known to the anti-doping authorities at all times.

As for the case itself, there appears to be total confusion over whether ?blood bag number 18? from the Operacion Puerto anti-doping raids – which apparently bears the name Valv.Piti – actually has been tested in Italy. (Assuming it exists, of course.)

According to reports in Spanish newspaper El Pais, one of CONI?s leading anti-doping investigators, Ettore Torri, says Valverde?s DNA, taken after the Prato Nevoso stage, corresponds with that of the blood bag.

Other CONI sources are reported to claim that the blood bag was tested in Italy after they had made an official request to Antonio Serrano, the judge responsible for Puerto that he release this piece of evidence to them.

Only state-backed institutions like CONI can make such requests for such evidence to be released – which was what happened when Jan Ullrich?s DNA was compared with a blood bag from Puerto.

In Ullrich’s case, the German authorities asked Serrano for one of the Puerto blood bags because Ullrich was involved in a court case in Germany – in the 1997 Tour winner’s case, over sporting fraud. And now the Italians say they have used the same legal framework.

However in Spain it is proving difficult to establish whether the bag of blood number 18, (assuming it exists, of course), actually left the country. Or whether the Italian authorities really asked Serrano for blood bag number 18, as they claim.

The Spanish Cycling Federation, amongst others, insist no such request has been made. The Spanish judicial authorities have neither confirmed or denied the request. CONI?s refusal to state exactly when they received the blood bag does not help matters, either.

El Pais, confusingly, also cites yet more un-named CONI sources who contradict Torre?s claims. The un-named sources state that the DNA for blood bag number 18 does not in fact correspond with Valverde?s DNA.

Amidst all this welter of different information, all that seems clear is the CONI have issued a summons to Valverde to make a statement over Puerto next Monday, in Rome. And that Valverde insists, as he always has done, that he has nothing to do with Spain’s biggest ever anti-doping investigation in the history of sport.

The consquences should Valverde be convicted of links to Puerto, though, are serious. The Spaniard faces up to a two-year ban on racing on Italian soil.

A hypothetical ban on Valverde, even if effective only in Italy, could have major consequences for the Spaniard, particularly in the Tour – his big objective of the year. One stage of the Tour de France this year runs through the Valle D?Aosta in Italy, and Valverde would therefore be unable to ride that stage.

RELATED LINKS

Alejandro Valverde: Rider Profile

July 5, 2008: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour de France?

January 11, 2008: Valverde back in anti-doping spotlight (again)

September 25, 2007: Valverde cleared by Puerto judge

September 18, 2007: UCI says it has new information on Valverde

August 30, 2007: Valverde expected to hand over DNA sample

August 30, 2007: Valverde banned from Worlds