By Gregor Brown
Roberto Heras reclaimed the 2005 Vuelta a España title despite a failed dope test for blood booster EPO. On Friday, Spain's Supreme Court ruled in favour of a lower court's decision to reinstate the win.
The 38-year-old Spaniard won his fourth Vuelta title on September 18 2005 by nearly five minutes over Denis Menchov (Rabobank). Twenty days later, test results revealed he doped with EPO in the final time trial stage. Consequently, he lost the overall and two stage wins and received a two-year ban.
Instead of challenging the decision to the sport's high court, CAS, in Switzerland, Heras fought the ruling in civil court. In June 2011, the court in Castile and León sided with Heras' argument, that despite the positive test, the lab violated procedures. The Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) appealed the decision, but lost in Spain's Supreme Court on Friday.
Heras' lawyers proved several errors: his urine was stored at an incorrect temperature, the same technician controlled both the A and B samples and the lab knew Heras' identity.
"I never stopped feeling that I was the 2005 Vuelta winner," Heras said in a statement. "The ruling is important for and allows me to reclaim the 2005 Vuelta."
The Vuelta director, Javier Guillen explained that he will wait for official word before restating Heras as the 2005 winner.
"Once we have official notice, we'll put his name back as the 2005 Vuelta winner," Guillen told Spanish daily, AS. "We'll respect the court's ruling, that's what we have to do."
Heras' unique and unconventional approach seems to have paid off for now. Lance Armstrong tried a similar manoeuvre in a Texas district court this summer, but was shot down. Armstrong argued that the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) lacked jurisdiction. The court ruled the issues are best resolved with the national bodies and CAS, "through the well-established system of international arbitration, by those with expertise in the field."
The Spanish cycling federation or the Union Cyclistse Internationale (UCI), may consider challenging Heras' case with CAS. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), UCI or RFEC have yet to comment.
Heras won his first Vuelta title riding for team Kelme in 2000. He signed a contract with Armstrong's US Postal team and supported him in the mountains at the Tour de France. He later rode for himself in Manolo Saiz's Liberty Seguros team. He won three more titles in that time frame.
After the 2005 Vuelta doping case and two-year ban, Heras never returned to cycling, but continued to raise eyebrows. Spanish investigators named him in the 2006 Operación Puerto doping scandal and the USADA allegedly marked him as Rider-7 in its redacted names.
"There are still several dozen redacted names from our reasoned decision," USADA CEO Travis Tygart told the Guardian on Thursday. "Footnote 18 [in the decision] says we're still continuing our investigation and that's about those names."
Also on Friday, AS newspaper reported that WADA suspended its Madrid accredited lab's activities. In August, the lab mixed up athletes' urine samples and declared the wrong person positive.
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