June 1, 2010 2 Comments
It has been a long time coming, but Alejandro Valverde was finally given a backdated two-year global ban yesterday evening by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). He will be unable to compete again until January 2012, meaning he will be unable to defend his Vuelta a España title in September.
The Spanish Caisse d’Epargne rider had already been banned from racing in Italy by the national authorities there, a sanction which prevented him racing in both the 2009 Giro d’Italia and Tour de France (part of the latter being run on Italian soil).
Valverde was one of the most prominent names identified in Operación Puerto, nearly four years ago. A bag of blood labelled Valv/Piti – Piti was the name of Valverde’s dog at the time – was found to contain traces of the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin), and this were positively matched by the Italians against DNA taken from a sample of Valverde’s blood at the Tour de France when the race crossed into Italy in 2008.
Veteran Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen made the following comments on his Twitter feed shortly after the news broke:
The decision to ban is fair after you look at what happened to guys implicated in Operación Puerto. And let’s see the other Spanish athletes (football, athletics, tennis etc) brought to justice the same way. Good for one, good for all.
Laudable though this objective may be, it seems unlikely. The Spanish cycling authorities have been noticeably reluctant to pursue any cases, and the potential furore – and lawsuits – that would accompany, say, any La Liga footballers being exposed for doping would suggest that other sports are unlikely to break the mould.
The official UCI press release reads as follows:
The International Cycling Union (UCI) is satisfied by the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on the Alejandro Valverde case. Mr Valverde has been suspended from all competition for two years commencing 1 January 2010.
By deciding to suspend the Spanish rider, the CAS agreed with the UCI, which had appealed in 2007 together with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) against the refusal of the Spanish Cycling Federation to open disciplinary proceedings against Mr Valverde for his involvement in Operation Puerto.
The UCI and cycling as a whole have certainly suffered greatly from this affair. The damage caused by Mr Valverde’s behaviour since the UCI became convinced of his guilt cannot be fully compensated for by this regulatory sanction. Nevertheless, the UCI is now relieved and contented with CAS’s decision as it resolves a situation that had become untenable.
Following the CAS’s decision, Mr Valverde will not be allowed to participate in any cycling events before 31 December 2011. Furthermore, he has been disqualified from all competitions in which he has competed since the beginning of the year and all points allocated to him have been removed. Mr Valverde must also return all prizes received.
The UCI World Ranking has been modified accordingly.
Valverde’s suspension includes the annulment of his 2010 results to date. (The UCI and WADA were unsuccessful in attempting to get earlier results voided, meaning Valverde’s 2009 Vuelta win will stand). However, Cadel Evans – fifth at the Giro – is consequently promoted to the number one ranking to go alongside his rainbow jersey, having won the 2009 World Championship road race.
It has taken a long and protracted legal battle to finally reach this point, and yet the weight of evidence against Valverde has always (to my untrained eye) appeared more conclusive than against, say, Ivan Basso, who has already served a two-year ban and, of course, won the Giro on Sunday.
Valverde, naturally, has already announced he will appeal against the ban, calling it “totally unjust and illegal”. Now I’m no expert on the intricacies of anti-doping procedures, but while it does appear that the case against Valverde was constructed in a somewhat unorthodox manner, CAS were satisfied that the blood was indeed his, and that the positive test result for EPO was authentic.
I, for one, will be hoping Valverde’s appeal is unsuccessful. I suspect most neutral observers would agree.