The Spanish and Italian Cycling Federations have opted to drop proceedings against riders implicated in the Operacion Puerto anti-doping investigation.
The dramatic decision means that all the Spanish riders involved in Puerto, as well as Giro 2006 winner Ivan Basso are free to ride again.
The question of which squad Basso can now ride with is a complex one – on Wednesday the ProTour teams association unanimously voted not to sign riders implicated in Puerto. Basso and his current team CSC have already gone their separate ways, following his exclusion from the Tour in July.
The Spanish Cycling Federation (SCF) argued that the decision to end the riders’ suspension was taken because the judge currently responsible for Puerto, Carmelo Jimenez, had stated that evidence from the investigation could not be used against riders for disciplinary measures. Their decision to lift the suspension against the 50-plus riders implicated in Spain was, they added, ?provisional? and could be reversed. This may happen as soon as the judge initially responsible for Operacion Puerto, Antonio Serrano, returns from holiday on November 2nd and takes over from Jimenez again.
The SCF also pointed out that their disciplinary investigation against four team officials implicated in Puerto – former Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz, Communidad Valenciana directeur sportifs Vicente Belda and Ignacio Labarta, as well as the former team doctor Yolanda Fuentes – would continue. However, this investigation can only be carried out once Puerto has been resolved in the courts – in July 2007.
At the same time, Saiz has taken the head of Spain?s government-run Sports Council, Rafael Blanco, to court over alleged irregularites in the documents, and riders from the LIberty Seguros and Comunidad Valenciana team have another case pending accusing the Spanish Federation of damaging their reputation.
To make matters even more confusing, the UCI?s ProTour Licence Committee has now decided that Saiz?s company, Active Bay, can stay in the ProTour. It has also rejected Swiss manager Marc Biver?s bid for a ProTour team licence. Biver had planned to take over the Astana sponsorship from Saiz in 2008. The UCI said in a statement it bitterly regretted the ProTour Licence Committee?s decision, but could not change it.
The Spanish press are deeply divided on what the consequences of the lifting of the riders’ suspensions will be. According to leading Madrid daily El Mundo, legal sources have informed them that the team doctor at the centre of the scandal, Eufemiano Fuentes, could see charges of public health offences against him dropped. And whilst the El Diario Vasco newspaper insists that the entire anti-doping operation ?has ended up as meaning a whole lot of nothing?, sports daily AS on the other hand emphasises that Puerto could be opened up again. As for El Pais, the newspaper which had seemingly unlimited access to the legal documents at the centre of the affair, on Saturday its website carried no report of the latest developments in Puerto whatsoever.