Alejandro Valverde's blood suspect, anti-doping prosecutor claims

Italian Olympic Committee's Ettore Torri makes claim at hearing

Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri said on Thursday that a blood sample found in the laboratory central to the Operation Puerto scandal belongs to Alejandro Valverde.

Torri made his claim following a hearing attended by the Spanish Caisse d'Epargne rider at CONI's headquarters in Rome on Thursday.

"We can say with certitude that the blood in bag number 18 belongs to Valverde," he said at a press conference following the Operation Puerto-related doping hearing.

The summons related to a blood-urine sample given by Valverde on July 21 during the 2008 Tour de France after a stage in Italy.

Italian news agency Ansa reported that DNA tests on this sample matched those of blood samples seized from the laboratory of tainted doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, the central figure in the Puerto scandal -- a claim now substantiated by Torri's announcement.

Although the sample Valverde gave during the Tour did not fail any dope tests, it is for the DNA match to the Puerto samples that Valverde was summoned.

"We confident that we are qualified to deal with this case and that we also have the jurisdiction to deal with foreign athletes," added Torri. "Valverde's case is identical to that of (Ivan) Basso (who was suspended for two years in 2006 after his blood was found in Fuentes's laboratory).

"We have documents referring to Valverde both for sums paid to Fuentes and for the substances (purchased). However, these documents require interpretation. For now, though, we haven't examined the possibility of a precautionary suspension for Valverde.

"His lawyers have two weeks to prepare the defence case."

Torri said that Valverde would not be summonsed again but revealed that others could be.

"If one refuses to answer there's no point in returning," he said. "There's another 90 bags of blood and not just those of cyclists."

Valverde's Italian lawyer Federico Cecconi, however, said that his client had nothing to worry about.

"Alejandro Valverde says that he's innocent," he said.

Although the sample Valverde gave during the Tour did not fail any dope tests, it is for the DNA match to the Puerto samples that Valverde was summoned.

The two-time ProTour winner Valverde's hearing had twice previously been delayed but at 16:40 local time he arrived at a rear entrance surrounded by carabinieri, the federal police force.

Upon his arrival, the Public Prosecutor's office in Rome announced their own investigation into his actions. Valverde arrived with two lawyers, his manager Antonio Sanchez and Caisse D'Epargne sports director Eusebio Unzue.

The hearing had previously been delayed due to the objections of a Spanish court which on Wednesday moved to block the case, claiming the samples of blood held by the Spanish justice system could not be used on another case in another country.

However, CONI's anti-doping section branded the objections as groundless and insisted that Valverde, who claims to be attending as a gesture of goodwill in order to clear his name, attend.

Valverde is also currently the subject of an open case at CAS brought by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) after Spanish authorities washed their hands of the whole Puerto affair.

Valverde has three times finished on the podium at the World Championships and was second in the 2006 Tour of Spain.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2009

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