Spanish and French newspaper reports have claimed that Spaniard Alejandro Valverde faces a possible bar from racing in Italy - should a re-opened investigation into Operacion Puerto by the local Olympic Committee (CONI) consider that the Caisse D?Epargne pro is implicated in the anti-doping probe.
The issue of whether Valverde is or is not implicated in Operacion Puerto has dragged on throughout the whole of 2007 with no real resolution. Now it is back in the newspaper headlines in 2008.
The Spanish authorities - cycling federation, Ministry of Sport and the police - have repeatedly stated that Valverde is not involved in Puerto. The Spaniard himself, as well as his team, have always taken the same line.
However, the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Authorities [WADA] strongly disagree. They have tried (unsuccessfully) to stop him from racing in the World Championships and WADA currently have a case open against him in the Court for Sports Arbitration[CAS].
Should CAS clear Valverde, the CONI could yet sanction the Caisse D?Epargne pro. That sanction could see Valverde barred from riding the Tour - which he stated is his most important goal for 2008 and which has a stage finishing in ITaly - and from the World Championships in Varese this autumn.
As ever, Valverde?s first reaction has been to question the legality of enquiries into his alleged involvement in Puerto.
?First we will have to see whether the CONI really has the legal capacity to investigate and fine riders who are not Italian.? Valverde?s lawyer, Jose Rodriguez, reacted on Friday.
?Then we will have to see if the riders have really committed some kind of error, in this case on Italian soil, because you can?t start fining or suspending somebody without proof.?
?Nobody in Italy has asked us for extra information about Puerto.? Spanish Cycling Federation Eugenio Bermudez - the same Federation which refused to open an enquiry about Valverde?s possible involvement - stated.
Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport also lists Tour winner Alberto Contador amongst those who may possibly be called to declare to CONI - in February this year. Yet like Valverde, Contador is not actually directly mentioned in the police report on Puerto and Contador has also had the direct support of the Spanish authorities.
Whatever the outcome of this umpteenth twist in the Puerto saga, Valverde will almost certainly be losing one of his key allies this spring. Long-standing Caisse D?Epargne manager Jose Miguel Echavarri - previously a manager to Indurain, Delgado and Abraham Olano - is widely expected to retire from the sport this February.
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