Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and former ONCE and Liberty-Seguros boss Manolo Saiz are among seven people who will face trial in Spain next in connection with Operacion Puerto. Each of the accused could face up to two years in prison. The news comes five and a half years after the blood doping ring was broken up by the Spanish authorities shortly before the 2006 Tour de France, causing a number of implicated riders to be withdrawn from the race.
The news also coincides with one rider investigated as part of Operacion Puerto, Alberto Contador, appearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to give evidence in the appeal by the UCI and World Anti-doping Agency relating to his failed test for clenbuterol during last year’s Tour de France. No decision is expected until the new year in that case.
It also comes just days after French former tennis player Yannick Noah provoked a storm by attributing the Spanish sporting ascendancy of recent years to the country’s athletes benefiting from some kind of “magic potion.”
In the newspaper column in which he made the claims, Noah said that Operacion Puerto – the “Fuentes Affair,” as he put it – had harldy caused a ripple. He ended by calling for doping to be legalised so “everyone will have the magic potion.”
More than 50 professional cyclists were implicated in Operacion Puerto, including Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich after Spanish police seized evidence including code-named blood bags.
However, the only Spanish cyclist ever to have been sanctioned in connection with the case was 2009 Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde, and the process which led to his ban, which expires at the end of this year, was one in which did not involve the Spanish authorities at all.
Indeed, with the Operacion Puerto investigation twice previously archived by a Madrid court, it had been assumed that no charges would ever be laid. That assumption has now been shown to be wide of the mark.
Joining Fuentes and Saiz in the dock will be former directeurs sportive Jose Ignacio Labarta and Vicente Belda, doctors Jose Luis Merino and Alfredo Cordova, and Fuentes’ sister, Yolanda.
It has been reported that because of a backlog of cases, the quintet may not actually stand trial until some time in 2013.
Between now and then, there could be some uncomfortable moments for athletes in a range of sports.
In July 2006, Fuentes himself pointed out that while only cyclists had been named as being involved with Operacion Puerto, he had worked with footballers and tennis players too.
Earlier this month, French newspaper Le Monde was forced to pay €15,000 in damages to FC Barcelona after a Spanish court held that an article in which it had falsely claimed to be in possession of alleged preparation plans for players from that team and rivals Real Madrid drawn up by Fuentes was based on “false and unverified facts.”
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.