Operación Puerto doping case

Operación Puerto (Operation Mountain Pass) [1] is the code name of a Spanish Police operation against the doping network of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, started in May 2006, which resulted in a scandal that involved several of the world's most famous cyclists at the time.

Media attention has focused on the small number of professional road cyclists named; however, sportspeople from other disciplines including football and tennis have also been connected with the scandal. [2] Fifteen had been acquitted by May 2007, while three had admitted doping or evidence of blood doping was found. [3] [4]

Timeline

Revelations by Jesús Manzano

In March 2004 in an interview with the Spanish newspaper Diario AS, Jesús Manzano exposed systematic doping in his former cycling team, Kelme. He detailed blood doping [5] as well as the performance-enhancing drugs he used while on the team. [6] The investigation and the allegations he made led to questioning of several members of the team in April 2004. These included Eufemiano Fuentes who was the Kelme team doctor, Walter Virú the doctor before Fuentes, and Alfredo Córdova who was working for Liberty Seguros–Würth but involved with Kelme in 2003. [7] An investigation began into the practices of Fuentes in early 2006 by the anti-drug trafficking arm of the Spanish Guardia Civil. [8]

Police action

On 23 May 2006, Spanish Guardia Civil arrested the directeur sportif of the Liberty Seguros–Würth team, Manolo Saiz, and four others including Fuentes, accused of doping practices with riders. [9] Spanish police raided residences. In one, belonging to Fuentes, they found a thousand doses of anabolic steroids, 100 packets of blood products, and machines to manipulate and transfuse them. [10] The Guardia Civil found a list naming other cyclists involved. Liberty Seguros withdrew their sponsorship, which left Würth as sole sponsor. [11]

Suspensions

As more names leaked to the press, T-Mobile Team asked riders to sign a statement that they had never worked with Fuentes, [12] while the Phonak team suspended Santiago Botero and José Enrique Gutiérrez, who had finished second in the 2006 Giro d'Italia. [13] Tour de France organisers ASO considered withdrawing invitations to Würth and Comunidad Valenciana. [14] On 1 June, the director of Valenciana, José Ignacio Labarta, resigned. [15]

Würth found a new sponsor, five Kazakh companies united under the name of the capital, Astana, and became Astana-Würth. [16] ASO withdrew Comunitat Valenciana's invitation, moving riders to send blood samples to be analysed to prove their innocence. [17] The Vuelta a España considered expelling the team. [18]

After El País published details of Operación Puerto, Spanish riders boycotted the Spanish National Road Race Championships, which was cancelled after 500 metres. [19] ASO wrote asking Astana-Würth not to take part in the Tour de France, which the team ignored. Jan Ullrich, linked to Fuentes by the newspaper, threatened to sue El País.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said Astana-Würth were to be accepted in the Tour. The Spanish authorities lifted the secret of summary two days before the start of the 2006 Tour, formally involving all 56 riders found in Fuentes' lists.

Because Ullrich and Óscar Sevilla were in the lists, T-Mobile suspended them. [20] The example was followed by Ivan Basso's Team CSC and Francisco Mancebo's AG2R Prévoyance. ASO demanded all riders involved be withdrawn by their teams, even though Astana-Würth had received the support of the CAS.

The day before the Tour, Astana-Würth yielded to pressure. Five of their riders had been excluded by ASO for involvement in the scandal, leaving only four of the six riders required. Francisco Mancebo, fourth the previous year and involved in the case, ended his career, according to his directeur sportif Vincent Lavenu. As a result, none of the riders who finished in the top 5 of the 2005 Tour de France started in the 2006 edition.

On 3 July, Würth also withdrew sponsorship of the Astana team. They had planned sponsorship only if it were not excluded from a race.

Six days later, T-Mobile fired Rudy Pevenage, directeur sportif, because he was also involved. On 21 July, the team suspended Ullrich and Sevilla, effectively sacking them. On the same day, Spanish cycling newspaper Meta2Mil listed codenames used by Fuentes which had not been deciphered by police.

Additional leaks

In November 2006, El Mundo[ citation needed] claimed that an anti-doping laboratory in Barcelona which analyzed 99 bags of blood plasma seized in Operación Puerto found "high levels of erythropoietin (EPO)". This suggested athletes working with Fuentes had been boosting their performance in ways other than blood doping. El Mundo suggested those implicated had delegated their cheating to Fuentes, and would not have been able to control the level of EPO they were taking.

After studying the Barcelona lab's report, El Mundo described Fuentes's program as: riders would visit Fuentes a few weeks before a race and have blood removed. Fuentes would run the blood through a centrifuge, separating the blood plasma from the red blood cells. The cells would be re-injected shortly before competition, boosting resistance to fatigue. If haematocrit levels (volume of red blood cells) got dangerously high, they would re-inject plasma as well, enhanced with EPO, to dilute the red blood cells and avoid detection.

The Barcelona lab did not identify any athlete responsible for any of the 99 tested bags of blood. [21]

Legal repercussions

On 26 July 2006, five Astana riders were cleared by Spanish courts. The five - Joseba Beloki, Isidro Nozal, Sérgio Paulinho, Allan Davis and Alberto Contador - received a document clearing them of links to Operación Puerto, the Spanish newspaper El Diario Vasco reported. [22]

On 8 October, the Madrid court in charge of the case told the Spanish cycling federation, the Real Federación Española de Ciclismo (RFEC), that court documents could not be used in the federation's investigations. [23]

On 13 October, Ivan Basso was cleared by Italian authorities due to lack of evidence. Ullrich was cleared by the Spanish courts on 25 October. The judge ruled that Ullrich and Basso were put under investigation without proof of involvement. [24]

On 28 October, the RFEC closed disciplinary files against cyclists in the investigation. However, the RFEC will initiate disciplinary investigations on Manolo Sáiz. [25] UCI president Pat McQuaid was reported to feel let down by authorities in Spain. He hoped teams would require cyclists to submit DNA samples to clear their names. [26] The investigations into Spanish riders were suspended. [27] On 7 March 2007, the case was dropped through lack of evidence of crime. [28]

Admissions and evidence of doping

On 3 April 2007, the German news agency sid said nine bags of blood marked Jan, number 1 or Hijo Rudicio (Son of Rudy) matched Jan Ullrich's saliva DNA. [4] On 7 May, Basso admitted involvement with the scandal to the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI). [3] On 9 May, Michele Scarponi admitted he was Zapatero in Fuentes' files. [29] And on 30 June, Jörg Jaksche admitted he was Bella. [30]

Trial

In January 2013, the Operacion Puerto trial went underway, and Eufemiano Fuentes offered to reveal the names of all the athletes who were his clients. Julia Santamaria, the judge presiding the trial, told Fuentes that he was not under obligations to name any athlete other than the cyclists implicated. Fuentes stated that he supplied athletes in other sports with drugs and said: “I could identify all the samples [of blood]. If you give me a list I could tell you who corresponds to each code on the [blood] packs.” [31]

On the 30 April 2013 Fuentes was found guilty and given a one-year suspended prison sentence. The judge also ruled on a request to hand over blood bags to the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency. The judge ordered the blood bags destroyed, but the anti-doping agency has appealed. [32] Additional appeals were filed by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the Italian National Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as by the prosecution. [33] On 14 June 2016, the original verdict against Fuentes was overruled and he was cleared of all charges. However, 211 blood bags from his laboratory are set to be handed over to anti-doping authorities for investigation. [34]