What began as a good week for Alejandro Valverde with a podium place in Paris-Nice finishes with the Caisse d’Epargne rider once again being involved in a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne.
On Sunday, Valverde secured second place behind Alberto Contador in the overall classification of Paris-Nice, but that achievement was overshadowed on Tuesday by news of his failed appeal to the CAS to overturn his ban from racing in Italy, a case heard by the court in January.
The hearing that begins today and which is scheduled to run through to Sunday concerns a separate issue to the one in which Valverde lost his appeal yesterday, but both are inextricably entwined with the cyclist’s alleged links to Operacion Puerto, and its outcome will determine what action cycling’s governing body, the UCI, will take against him.
In it, the World Anti Doping Authority (WADA) and the UCI will protest the failure of RFEC, the Spanish cycling federation, to open disciplinary proceedings against the rider.
The UCI has been frustrated by the fact that while the various legal processes continue, Valverde has been free to race and the rider has amassed a string of high-profile victories since being first implicated in Operacion Puerto.
That includes his first Grand Tour win in last year’s Vuelta, by which time he had been banned from racing in Italy by the Italian Olympic authority, CONI, in May 2009.
That ban came about as a result of what is, in effect, the smoking gun in Valverde’s case. During the 2008 Tour de France, blood samples taken from the cyclist when the race crossed into Italy were found to be a DNA match for blood seized during Operacion Puerto which bore the codename Valv.Piti
The ban, which currently applies only on Italian territory, meant that Valverde missed the Tour de France last year as a result of the race briefly crossing the border into Italy.
The UCI has already said that in light of the latest CAS decision, it plans to take steps to enforce the Italian ban internationally, which would mean that Valverde would be banned from racing internationally until May 2011.
However, the fact that Valverde’s lawyers have said that the cyclist plans to appeal that decision to the Swiss Federal Court means that further delay in the process is inevitable.
Should the decision in the case starting today go the way of WADA and the UCI, however, that would open up the prospect of a fresh two-year ban for the cyclist, although it is likely to be some time before the CAS makes its decision public.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.