Spanish pros boycott their road championship

Sunday, June 25, 2006 11.00pm
After further revelations about Operacion Puerto appeared in the Spanish press on Sunday, the countr
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM Spain's national road race championship did not take place on Sunday as programmed following a decision by the riders due to take part to go on strike in the wake of the latest allegations stemming from the Operacion Puerto blood doping inquiry. The decision was made after El Pais published extracts reported to be from the legal summary of the Operacion Puerto investigation, implicating 58 riders in the affair, although only four were named, including Roberto Heras, who was stripped of his victory in last year's Vuelta after testing positive for EPO. A series of articles in El Pais suggested that as many as 15 Liberty Seguros riders and 23 Comunitat Valenciana riders were clients of the suspected blood doping ring allegedly headed by former ONCE and Kelme doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Riders from these two teams were most active in calling for a boycott of yesterday's race in the Madrid suburb of Mostoles. Before the race Comunitat Valenciana team manager Vicente Belda had encouraged some form of protest to bring pressure to bear on the Spanish government so that his team might have their invite to the Tour de France restored after it was stripped two weeks ago. This led to a packed meeting on the race podium and then another larger meeting at a Mostoles hotel. After this, a statement was released saying that the race was being boycotted following the articles in El Pais. The statement also confirmed the riders' commitment to work with the authorities in the fight against doping. The El Pais articles alleged that Fuentes and former Liberty team boss Manolo Saiz headed a blood doping ring that operated on an international level. As well as sourcing products such as EPO, growth hormone and a variety of steroids, the ring is also alleged to have carried out blood-related treatments at a reported cost of 40,000 euros per client per year. The Madrid prosecutor is believed to be putting together a case against Fuentes and others based on infractions of the Spanish law on public health. The decision to strike was condemned by the Spanish federation, which apologised to the towns organising the event. Some riders also made clear their unhappiness with the decision, including Ag2r's Paco Mancebo. "I would have preferred to have ridden, but I will go along with the majority," Mancebo told AS. He added: "I don't think it was a well thought out decision. I had no idea this strike was being prepared. Before the race was due to start I had been talking with some of the Comunitat Valenciana riders and none of them mentioned they were planning this action. I don't think this was the best way of going about things. The most positive thing to come out of it is that for the first time we have all acted as a collective."

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