Valverde talks about the ‘shadow’ of Operación Puerto allegations
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Valverde talks about the ‘shadow’ of Operación Puerto allegations

by Conal Andrews at 7:47 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping, Liège-Bastogne-Liège

For almost four years now, Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde has been linked to Operación Puerto. The breaking up of a doping ring based in Madrid with links to Italy dominated the headlines from May 2006 onwards, and over time more and more pro riders were implicated in the case.

Valverde, a double ProTour winner, 2009 Vuelta a España champion and multiple Classic and stage race victor was linked to blood bag number 18, firstly through the linked codename of Valv. Piti (his dog is called Piti), and then more recently by the Italian Olympic Committee, CONI. It took blood samples from the rider after he crossed the border during the 2008 Tour de France, then did a DNA match with the contents of the blood bag seized.

A two year ban from racing on Italian soil followed, and this was recently upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after Valverde and his legal team lodged an unsuccessful challenge. The UCI now has the option to extend this ban worldwide, and is also pursuing a separate CAS appeal in order to force the Spanish federation to impose its own global suspension.

“I try to remain stoic, to put this affair to the side, but, for sure, this case haunts me,” Valverde admitted in a frank interview with “I live constantly with a big cloud over me. I have learned to live with it, it is there each day. I try not to think too much about it. I do what I can, train and race as best as I can. The rest is not my responsibility. But it's true, it all influences me, I think regularly about it at races. It also plays on me - I ride sometimes too impulsively because of these problems, because of rage. I pay then ...”

The second CAS appeal has already been held and the results are pending at any moment. The UCI estimates that the verdict will be announced in May and, if it wins, the Spanish federation will then be forced to take the disciplinary action that it has so far avoided in doing.

A two year ban would most likely follow, ruling Valverde out of the 2010 and 2011 Tours de France, and quite possibly resulting in his disqualification from at least some of the races he has won since May 2006.

"I do every race without considering the future," he admits. "I sometimes think that the next race will be my last. Not the last of my career because, if, unfortunately, I was suspended - which would be a huge injustice - I would return. I would resume my career. I will never give up, I never thought to give up cycling, before, nor now. I still have much to contribute to the bike, still many races to win. "

Valverde has earned millions of euros in salary since the Puerto affair started. He’s also racked up a lot more cash due to prize money and endorsements, but he admits that he has found it hard to fully enjoy the benefits.

“Even when I win, my happiness has a particular taste," he said, “for I cannot fully enjoy my victory. But I can assure you, I am a happy man, my family is fine, my children and my wife are doing well, I'm fine too, the rest is ultimately secondary.”

Italian rider Ivan Basso was also implicated in Puerto and ultimately served a ban. He returned to racing in the autumn of 2008 and has been largely successful, both in terms of riding well and also in rebuilding the trust of the public once more. He posts his blood values online and does what he can to try to show that he is riding clean.

Valverde must surely look at Basso’s situation and wonder if things would have been more straightforward had he already been suspended and served the punishment handed out. He admits that it would bring about closure, but sticks to his assertion that he has done nothing wrong.

"I wish that all this ended but I don’t know if this will be the case,” he said. “Would it be better if I was suspended for a year to end this definitively? If that happens, I would never agree with that judgement, it would be an enormous injustice. But afterwards, in effect, I would be at peace.”

Valverde will compete in Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday, bidding to win the race for the third time in his career. He showed solid rather than spectacular form in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, but may find that his finishing sprint brings him success on Sunday.

If that happens, you can be sure of two things. Firstly, the media and a significant portion of those who follow the sport will ask why he is still able to compete and win, given that CAS already ruled that CONI was entitled to ban him in Italy. Secondly, that Valverde will savour the victory, taste the champagne, but know that the following day that cloud will still be on the horizon, the clock ticking down and the second CAS judgement moving ever-closer to being announced.


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