Pound: "Valverde may face lengthy ban"

Spaniard may be linked to Operation Puerto

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Dick Pound claimed in Madrid on Thursday that the Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde could have been involved in Operation Puerto, and may still face a lengthy ban.

Valverde, the winner of the 2006 UCI (International Cycling Union) Pro Tour and three-times a World Championships medalist, has always denied being involved in the infamous doping scandal which has tarnished cycling.

The name refers to the police raids of the premises of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in May 2006, where they found bags of stored blood, banned doping products and lists of code-names allegedly belonging to top cyclists.

"There is still the evidence coming from the documentation that is available to the UCI that would indicate this particular cyclist might have been involved in Operation Puerto," said Pound at a press conference on Thursday.

"And the code that has been broken would indicate how," Pound added. "I'm not at liberty to advise you other than to say it was not the use of athletes' names that were associated with blood bags.

"The names of dogs were associated with blood bags and, funnily enough,some of the dogs were associated with cyclists," added Pound, giving a hint of how Valverde may be linked to Operation Puerto.

"The problem (WADA have) with Operation Puerto is that the judge has said that none of the evidence which is available to all the parties, including us and the UCI, can be used for sports sanctions purposes until the criminal case is entirely finished.

"But we are sitting up there with a whole bunch of information that we know exists but you are prevented from using it," complained Pound.

The Spanish government has appealed to the country's Supreme Court to reconsider a decision made earlier this year that none of the 34 cyclists named so far in Operation Puerto, or Fuentes, had committed a crime.

However earlier this year Italy's top cyclist Ivan Basso, a Tour de France runner-up, admitted his links to the scandal having been identified by the name of his dog, 'Birillo'.

A decision on whether to re-open the case is expected in January.

In September, the UCI attempted to ban Valverde from this year's World
Championships because of their belief that he was implicated in Operation Puerto but he overturned their decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"This... was just a challenge that he made to a decision not to let him start in the World Championships but that doesn't mean that the evidence that they (the UCI) had to produce for that reason has been completed," said Pound on Thursday.

Controversially, the Spanish cycling federation stood by Valverde who was cleared to compete in the road race on September 30, the blue riband event of the World Championships, just four days beforehand.

The dispute clearly took its toll on Valverde as the 2005 silver medalist and 2006 bronze medalist finished in 57th place and nearly three minutes behind the Italian winner Paolo Bettini.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2007

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