Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), has called on the Spanish authorities to increase their efforts in the fight against doping after the latest doping affair at the Tour de France.
Moises Duenas of the Barloworld team became the second Spaniard to leave the race under a cloud Wednesday after being told he had tested positive for the banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO). Fellow Spaniard Manuel Beltran, of Liquigas, was suspended by his team last week after he also tested positive for EPO.
Following increased efforts by several anti-doping bodies, teams and race organisers to beat the cheats, McQuaid believes this year's Tour is finally showing signs of a healthy peloton.
However the Irishman feels it is no coincidence that so far, it is only Spanish riders that have been forced off the race.
"For me there is a correlation. The Operation Puerto (doping affair) was in Spain and a large proportion of the riders involved in that were Spanish," McQuaid told AFP in a telephone call from Switzerland.
The Operation Puerto erupted in 2006 and has dominated the sport for nearly two years following the discovery of banned substances, and blood bags with code names, by police at a clinic in Madrid.
At the time, it was reported that 200 athletes from a wide range of sports were involved although so far only Italian cycling star Ivan Basso, a former Giro d'Italia winner, has been sanctioned for his links to the affair.
McQuaid struggled in his bid to have the Spanish authorities fully investigate the affair, which has been shelved - for now. But he said that shelving, and the two recent tests of Beltran and Duenas, demonstrated the need for Spanish authorities to have a long hard look at their sport "from the top down".
"I would be interested to find out if there has been one athlete brought before a judge in Spain," added McQuaid, who admitted he has experienced several problems with the Spanish federation. "I have spoken to the president of the Spanish federation on several occasions and have tried to impress upon him the seriousness of the problems of doping. It's not just to do with testing. It's about changing a whole culture.
"I have been to Spain, spoken to people and seen what goes on. I've heard of cyclists racing at junior level who have been caught cheating. Often, it's not just the riders, it's the people around them."
McQuaid has not attended the Tour de France because the UCI is currently at odds with the race organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO). However he believes that this year's race is far more credible than previous editions.
"I'm extremely confident that the majority of the guys riding at the Tour de France are doing so cleanly," added McQuaid. "But I'm absolutely stunned that some of them are still willing to take risks with their health, and with getting caught cheating, after all the controls that have been increased and refined in the sport."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008