Spanish police have opened up what is arguably their highest profile anti-doping investigation into cycling since Operacion Puerto, back in 2006.
Anti-doping probes in cycling have rarely taken place in Spain since Puerto, leading to criticisms that the country had an overly lax approach to investigating athletes using banned drugs in the sport, despite the recent spate of positive tests.
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However, it has now emerged that Xacobeo-Galicia is under investigation, and one of its former team doctors, Juan Manuel Rodriguez Batista, already questioned by the Spanish police.
The investigation kicked off after Xacobeo’s most successful season ever in its five years of existence. Ezequiel Mosquera, runner-up in the 2010 Tour of Spain and his Xacobeo-Galicia team-mate David García Dapena both failed a test for HES, a blood plasma expander, commonly used as a masking agent for EPO. García Dapena then failed a blood test for EPO itself.
For the police to get involved would hardly be exceptional in France or Italy. But whilst drug rings involving gyms are frequently investigated (and busted), this investigation is arguably the highest profile one by Spanish police into cycling since Puerto.
Mosquera and García Dapena’s failure of doping tests is not the first time the team, which folded shortly after the Vuelta 2010, has been overshadowed by drugs scandals.
Rodriguez Batista was the team doctor for Xacobeo in 2009, but was sacked mid-way through the Tour of Spain that year and replaced by Columbia medic Alberto Beltrán. However, it then emerged that Beltrán was under judicial investigation in Italy for doping offences, and the team doctor for Portuguese squad Liberty when it had three positives for EPO.
Beltran was promptly removed but when the team management claimed they had no idea of his murky past, there were criticisms that they either should have known, or were not interested in finding out.
If the Spanish police investigation does uncover something, it could be the first to be able to use Spain’s ‘new’ anti-doping laws – in place since 2007 – in a cycling drugs scandal.