Alejandro Valverde has been banned from competing in Italy for two years by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI).
The ban means Valverde’s participation in the Tour de France in July is in jeopardy, because stage 16 goes onto Italian soil.
The UCI has a rule which states that a ban applied in one country must be enforced worldwide, so it could be that Valverde is banned from competition altogether.
Valverde, who was not present at today’s hearing, is certain to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The 29-year-old Spaniard, who rides for Caisse d’Epargne, has been linked to the Operacion Puerto investigation since June 2006.
CONI’s prosecutor, Ettore Torri seized blood samples taken on the rest day of last year’s Tour de France, when the race reached Italy, and compared them to blood stored by Dr Eufamiano Fuentes, the Madrid-based gynaecologist at the centre of the doping scandal. Based on DNA evidence, CONI has banned Valverde from competing on Italian soil.
It had been rumoured that Valverde’s blood was in bag number 18 and that he was referred to as Valv.Piti in Fuentes’s documents.
The decision means Valverde will not be able to race in Italy for two years, unless CAS reverses the decision.
It doesn’t prevent Valverde from starting the Tour de France but it could mean an ugly and complicated wrangle if the rider decides to appeal the decision. If the issue is not resolved, he could start the Tour de France in Monaco on July 4 but pull out before the race reaches Italy on July 21.
ASO would presumably have something to say about that and would surely bar Valverde to avoid further controversy.