Road World's: Valverde out; Zabel in

UCI bans Spaniard under Puerto cloud

Cycling's governing body, the UCI said Wednesday it had barred Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, the UCI ProTour champion in 2006, from riding in next month's world championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

The UCI said it suspected Valverde may be involved in the Spanish police's Operation Puerto inquiry into Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor said to have masterminded doping programmes for athletes.

"During the meticulous studying of the 6,000-page Puerto dossier, the UCI has concluded that several documents may show the involvement of Alejandro Valverde in the affair," it said.

The UCI said it had requested the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) to open disciplinary proceedings against the rider as soon as possible.

"These proceedings would not imply any guilt on the part of Alejandro Valverde.

"However, according to UCI regulations, and to safeguard the atmosphere and reputation of the world championships, Alejandro Valverde will be prevented from participating in the forthcoming UCI Road World Championships in Stuttgart."

The UCI added that if the Spanish rider's involvement in the Puerto affair was confirmed and he were to receive at least a two-year suspension, then as a signatory of the 'Riders' Commitment to a New Cycling', "he would be obliged to pay the UCI a contribution to the anti-doping campaign of a sum equal to his annual salary for 2007, in addition to any regulatory fines."

The German city of Stuttgart will host the world cycling championships between September 25-30.

The Spanish Cycling Federation last September publicly supported Valverde, with chairman Fulgencio Sanchez saying: "We refute the accounts in certain media on a supposed implication of Valverde in Operation Puerto."

Valverde had already said he would not compete in the Tour of Spain, starting this weekend and in which he finished runner-up last year, in order to concentrate on the world championships.

Last year, he finished behind Vuelta winner Alexandre Vinokourov, who tested positive for blood doping on this year's scandal-plagued Tour de France.

The RFEC said in a statement that it had called on its secretary general and legal team to study the case of Valverde and would not in the meantime make an official comment.

Zabel named to German team

Controversial German rider Erik Zabel looks set to take part in the world's after the German Cycling Federation (BDR) named him in their provisional squad on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old, who won silver at last year's road world's in Salzburg, has been named in a preliminary 21-man squad which will be trimmed down before the championships which are in Stuttgart from September 26-30.

Zabel, who is set to compete in the Tour of Spain which starts on Saturday, was delighted with the news.

"I am very pleased to be allowed to race for Germany in the world championships," he said. "I will fight hard and try to do as well as I did last year."

Zabel's inclusion is controversial after his May confession to using banned blood-booster EPO (erythropoietin) for a short period during the 1996 Tour de France while racing for Deutsche Telekom.

"We have taken the decision after careful deliberation over the cyclist's form and all the other circumstances," said BDR president Rudolf Scharping.

After his tearful confession, the BDR had said Zabel's selection was in doubt and the team will be trimmed to 14 on September 18.

In the end, the BDR voting was 6-2 in favour of including Zabel with Scharping, a close friend of the cyclist, excluding himself from the vote.

The decision will not go down well with Susanne Eisenmann, the president of the organising committee, who had called for Zabel to be banned from racing after his confession.

Tour of Germany winner Jens Voigt was also included in the provisional squad.

© AFP 2007

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