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Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz spent Tuesday night in the custody of the Spanish police, who instigated a country-wide anti-doping operation on Monday at the end of a three-month investigation into suspected use of illegal practices within the Spanish peloton. Saiz was detained on Tuesday morning at Liberty's service course HQ in Vallecas, in the suburbs of Madrid.
In addition to Saiz, four others were detained in Madrid: renowned Spanish sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, Comunitat Valenciana assistant directeur sportif Ignacio Labarta, for Madrid Centre for Transfusions director Jos Luis Merino Batres, and former pro mountain biker Alberto Leon. The quintet are believed to be under investigation for breaking the Law for Public Health.
The detentions were made by a special unit responsible for drug-trafficking issues within Spain's Guardia Civil. The judge overseeing the case has refused to allow details of the case to be released, but reports in Spain suggest the five men had had their phones tapped during the past three months.
The Guardian Civil unit searched properties belonging to those detained. Spanish news agency EFE has reported that one of two apartments belonging to Fuentes they found a variety of products, including steroids, hormones, bags of blood, equipment which could be used to manipulate and freeze blood, as well as equipment to carry out blood transfusions. As one of Spain's leading gynaecologists, Fuentes would need access to these products.
The Madrid clinic run by Merino Batres was also searched. It is alleged blood transfusions were carried out on athletes from several different sports at the clinic, including cyclists. The clinic had been mentioned by doping whistleblower Jesus Manzano as a place where he received doping assistance when he was with the Kelme team.
The police unit has been investigating alleged use of 'autotransfusion' - blood being taken from athletes and then being manipulated so that it is close to the International Cycling Union's haematocrit (red blood cell count) limit of 50 per cent, and finally being transfused back into the athlete concerned during competition so that no trace of doping can be detected.
According to Spanish sports daily AS, which has led a contentious campaign against doping over recent seasons that included the publication of Manzano's allegations of widespread doping use, the three-month investigation has been focused on the Canary Islands. They also report more people are likely to be detained in the coming days.
Asked whether he would is considering preventing the Liberty Seguros team from starting the Tour de France in July on the basis of this case being a presumed case of doping, Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc responded: "It is too early to make a comment. I hope to find out what is going on. I know from past experience what damage premature judgements can cause."
Leblanc said he would be taking time to reflect on the issue. "Journalists always want things to move faster than race organisers," he said.
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