Spanish ace Alejandro Valverde is continuing to weather the storm caused by ongoing doping allegations in the lead-up to his bid for cycling's famous rainbow jersey.
Valverde, crowned the Tour of Spain champion last week, is among a handful of favourites for the gold medal in the gruelling 262.2km men's road race that will bring the curtain down on the world cycling championships. But a few external forces are making sure that his path to possible glory on Sunday is not a smooth one.
Valverde is already serving a two-year racing ban in Italy after the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) claimed that a blood sample, taken from the Spaniard at last year's Tour de France which passed through Italy, matched one of dozens discovered during the 'Operation Puerto' raid at a Spanish doping laboratory in 2006 which uncovered doping products, blood samples and codenames of athletes.
That sanction ruled Valverde out of competing at this year's Tour de France because the race passed through Italy.
The Spaniard has since lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but if CAS uphold the CONI ban the International Cycling Union (UCI) have pledged to extend Valverde's ban worldwide. And, some UCI officials now appear to be tightening the screw ahead of one of cycling's big annual rendezvous.
UCI Pro Tour president Vittorio Adorni reportedly told Corriere della Sera newspaper earlier this week: "The fact that Valverde has been condemned by the Italian Olympic Committee and is still competing is shameful and disturbing."
UCI president McQuaid said Wednesday he would make no comment on the Valverde case.
Yet the fact that Adorni is Italian, as is one of Valverde's biggest rivals for the coveted road race crown - Damiano Cunego - is being seen as no coincidence.
If things seemed bad for Valverde, they only got worse late on Wednesday. The Spanish team thought that despite his racing ban Valverde would be safe from police questioning and booked into a hotel near the scenic Lake Como. But they are taking no chances. Early Thursday, the Spaniards officially announced they had moved out of their Italian hotel and gone across the border to Lugano in Switzerland.
In the past decade the Spaniards and Italians have become key players in the men's elite race at the world road race championships, winning the title four times apiece. But it is now suspected their rivalry is spilling over into the corridors of power which govern the sport.
Spanish national federation president Juan Carlos Castano reacted angrily to Adorni's statements to the Italian press, claiming the Spaniards have nothing to hide.
Some are now wondering whether the Italians' apparent badgering of Valverde, who has consistently denied any link to the Operation Puerto, is designed to avenge the two-year ban handed out to Italian star Ivan Basso.
Basso, the 2006 Tour of Italy champion, was the biggest, and one of the only, names in cycling to be sanctioned for his involvement in the affair and served a two-year ban from 2007 to 2009.
Valverde is set to face a CAS hearing in October.
© AFP 2009
You can follow BikeRadar on Twitter at twitter.com/bikeradar.