Doping ban annulled due to breaches of protocol and lack of competency, Menchov to miss out

The saying goes that the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. Cycling fans could be forgiven for thinking that in Spain, they grind in an entirely different manner to the rest of the world with the news a court has ruled that Roberto Heras should have the 2005 Vuelta title he was stripped of for doping returned to him. That victory was eventually awarded to runner-up Denis Menchov, who will presumably have it removed from his palmarès.

The news comes just six weeks before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland is finally due to hear appeals by the UCI and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) against the decision earlier this year of the Spanish national federation, the RFEC, not to sanction Alberto Contador following his positive test for clenbuterol during last year’s race, which he won.

A week before that decision was announced, press reports suggested that the RFEC would impose a one-year ban on the Saxo Bank-SunGard rider. That was followed by messages of support for the cyclist by the Spanish prime minister and leader of the opposition and his subsequent exoneration, giving rise to suspicions of political interference.

The delay in setting a date for the CAS hearing means that Contador, winner of the Giro d’Italia next month, will be free to defend his Tour de France title when this year’s race gets under way a week tomorrow, and many within the sport have expressed concerns that, whatever the outcome, the situation should have been resolved by now.

Last year, CAS banned 2009 Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde, then ranked the number one rider in the world by the UCI, after the international governing body and WADA sought to have him sanctioned as a result of his links to Operacion Puerto. The RFEC had never opened proceedings against the Caisse d’Epargne rider.

Heras was a key lieutenant of Lance Armstrong at US Postal Service, helping the Texan to three overall Tour de France wins between 2001 and 2003. Previously, in 2000, he had himself finished fifth overall.

A strong GC rider in his own right, he dominated the Vuelta in the first half of the last decade, winning in 2000 in the colours of Kelme, in 2003 while with USPS, then in 2004 and 2005, riding for Liberty Seguros.

Subsequent to that fourth and final victory in his country’s home tour, however, he was revealed to have tested positive for EPO following the penultimate day’s individual time trial. A two-year ban from the RFEC effectively ended his career and he was stripped of the victory, which instead went to Menchov, then with Rabobank.

Now, according to a report from the Europa Press Agency carried by Spanish press outlets including El Mundo, a court in Valladolid has overturned that decision and reversed the RFEC’s annulment of Heras’s results and the punishment imposed on him.

In a ruling with potential ramifications for other doping cases heard in Spain, the court said that the government-run sports disciplinary committee, the body that actually heard Heras’s case, did not have sufficient powers to rule on an international-level race such as the Vuelta.

Other factors behind its decision were said to include concerns that protocols regarding the storage and handling of the samples taken from Heras had not been complied with, and that his anonymity had been breached.

It is not yet clear what, if any, avenues of appeal lie open to the authorities or indeed to Menchov, now riding with Geox-TMC, who went on to win the Vuelta in 2007 and the centenary Giro d’Italia in 2009.

Heras has competed in Britain at the Brompton World Championships, held annually at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, and won the 2009 edition of the event.

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.