Alejandro Valverde returned to the sharp end of cycling today after serving a two-year doping ban. He won the fifth stage of 2012 Tour Down Under in South Australia on Saturday.

He said that he realises there are mixed feelings about his return and told Cycling Weekly, “There will be some that are happy and some that are not.”

The Italians were not happy five years ago when Valverde continued to race despite being linked to the Operación Puerto investigation. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) used DNA evidence it collected from Valverde when the Tour de France passed Italy in 2008. It matched it to some of the coded blood bags seized by Spanish police in May 2006.

Its work led to an Italy-wide ban and then, after a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling, a world-wide, two-year ban: January 1, 2010, to December 31, 2011. His results, including those from the 2010 Tour Down Under and a win in the Tour of Romandy, were worthless and annulled.

Spanish team Movistar signed him to race immediately after his ban ended. Anxious for his return, it lent him a bike and kit to use during his suspension. It also tried to present him with its team in November, but the UCI forced the team to wait until January.

Valverde rode with the team when it was known as Illes Balears and Caisse d’Epargne. He won the Vuelta a España and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The team is happy to have him back.

“He was one of the strongest riders in the world,” said sports director, José-Luis Arrieta. “He’s loved by the fans. They go crazy for him; the Spanish fans, the French, the Italians…”

Fans, however, booed Alexandre Vinokourov when he returned from a doping suspension and won in Liège in 2010.

“They are different cases,” said Valverde. Cycling Weekly pushed for clarification. “Different cases,” he said again, “Vinokourov’s and mine.”

Fans tolerance for dopers has changed significantly since the Festina Affair in 1998 and indeed, since Puerto in 2006. Rules allow cyclists a second chance, but fans may be unforgiving. A huge, collective sigh of disappoint was felt when he won over home favourite, Simon Gerrans on Old Willunga Hill on Saturday.

Valverde will see how the European fans welcome him when he returns home for the rest of the season. He said that his goals are in the Ardennes Classics in April, including Liège, and the Tour de France in July.

Related links

Valverde not permitted at Movistar presentation

Alejandro Valverde: Rider Profile

Valverde wins Tour Down Under stage five

  • PeteH

    Dave Bonner – mistake acknowledged, bit embarrassing! But the point still stands. And it definitely wasn’t only the pro scene that was riddled with doping and still isn’t (todays news of the amateur frenchy with 12 illegal substances in his system is testimony to that!).

  • Ken Evans

    Valverde is an experienced professional,
    it is very unlikely he did anything without knowing.

    He has earned large amounts of money,
    he is famous in Spain,
    some people see him as a star and hero.

    He hasn’t spoken much about the reasons his blood bags
    were found during Operation Puerto.

    He wants to win races, and not just make up the numbers.

    He didn’t directly fail a dope test during a race.
    And neither has Lance Armstrong,
    despite various claims being made against him by former team-mates.

  • JDunn

    Standing up for Valverde is naive – he wasn’t simply accused, his blood was found in a bad with EPO in it that was positively identified using DNA from a previous test.

    The problem isn’t that he served his time but arguably that he hasn’t and has compounded this by refusing to admit that there was a problem. Many riders identified as having doped got far longer sentences.

    Does this matter? Ask the sponsors what they think of cycling.

  • Dave Bonner

    Peter H,
    Phil Liggett would be very proud to be a pro rider but you should get your facts right. Phil was an amateur rider and a journalist. Also the organiser of the milk race.

  • PeteH

    The “lad” is in his 30s. He cheated and in doing so collected prize money that meant other athletes either had to resign themselves to the reality that if you can’t beat them join them (as most do) or ride their guts out just trying to keep a contract to put food on the table for their families. In any other walk of life than sport this is theft and is a criminal offence. I’m not holier than thou because I am not a pro cyclist and so do not have to make those difficult choices but I understand what they have to face up to and do not envy them. They are stuck in a vicious cycle that can only be broken by catching the dopers and punishing them to protect the riders playing fair. It’s not easy to pin an offence on a doper because the methods used are so intricate and undetectable but when you grow a bit of cynicism from following sport for a long time it’s not difficult to start seeing through the fog of lies.
    The top poster is right about Ligget and Sherwen’s commentry about dopers. They do everything they can to sit on the fence, play down the offence and welcome the rider back (always emphasising that they are now definitely riding clean!). These two were both former riders in some of the darkest days of the pro peleton where doping was rife and was life and the omerta was fully imposed. They’re rightly happy with their status as the great cycling commentators so don’t expect them to be making any controversial statements for fear of some ghosts from the past coming back to haunt them!
    Valverde’s an exciting rider, as is Contador and many other dopers that have been penalised for their misdemeanors, but that shouldn’t cloud our judgment. There are plenty of young riders with a new mindset on doping and with a burning ambition to become the next great riders that will profit from the demise of these cheats. An anti-doping stance has to mean zero tolerance – it has nothing to do with jealousy or pontification.

  • JDunn

    No, really, we’re all delighted that Valverde is back. Honest.

  • Barbara Wells

    I really don’t understand the problem with you people, the lad made a mistake and paid for it .All this holier than thou makes me sick , because it is all false . I have been following cycling since 1989 and the attitude of you people has never changed , the cyclists dont like it ! then lo and behold one of them are caught ,and so it goes on. The next one to be stuck on the rack will be Aberto Contrador !!! if of course it has’nt aiready started,which i believe it has and he has’nt ben found guilty yet. Its about time you lot grew up, and faced the world as it is. If the truth was known all the cyclist that are strugging would be trying to find something to help them .So please give it up,,and act like human beings not jealous saints!!!!!!!!!!!

  • david meek

    great to see this talented rider back, with a bang!! A line has to be drawn between guilt and perceived guilt.

    great to see Valverde back, with a bang! And sad to read the previous comment, living in the past. If you accuse Valverde, you should accuse all those other names in other sports linked with Puerto- Nadal, to name one, who refuse to deny, and shut down the interview with David Walsh as soon as it was raised. Big question there! And the big football teams involved who hushed up their involvement!!
    So, draw a line. Good to see this great athlete back


  • Greg Cunningham

    Phil Liggett emerged as an apologist for Valverde during the commentary on the closing stages of the Australian TV coverage of this stage,, He twice said that Valverde hadn’t been convicted of any offence but did not give the wider picture, probably leaving the uninitiated with the incorrect impression that the rider was wrongly suspended. He repeated this comment during a later panel discussion with the anchor of the Channel 9 coverage (Andrew Voss) adding that CAS had accepted chemical evidence linking the rider with the Operationn Puerto scandal but both he and Paul Sherwen presented this information in a sceptical light, in my view, emphasising that it was controversial and indicating that the stage win after 2 years out of the sport win confirmed that Valverde was a true chamption. Not of course that drugs had anything to do with the riders long list of earliler victories !!