Spanish newspaper ABC says it believes that Jorg Jaksche or Michele Scarponi may be the ‘protected witness’ the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) planned to call in last November’s hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne regarding Alberto Contador’s positive test for clebuterol during the 2010 Tour de France. In a further twist, former Giro d’Italia director Angelo Zomegnan, writing in his blog in the Gazzetta dello Sport, has urged the mystery witness to come forward, and has also said Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis should not be allowed to hold a UCI licence.
In a story published on Monday under the headline ‘El enigma del señor X’ – ‘The riddle of Mr X’ – the newspaper recounts parts of the CAS decision relating to an anonymous witness whom WADA had wanted to testify on its behalf in the case, presumably to cast doubt on Contador’s contaminated meat defence.
That defence was of course rejected by the CAS panel ruling on the case when it announced its decision earlier this month and upheld the appeal of the UCI and WADA. Contador is currently serving a two-year ban, partly retrospective, and will not be free to return to competition until this August.
The 29-year-old won the Tour de France in 2007 with Discovery Channel and again in 2009 and 2010 with Astana. The 2010 title has since been awarded to RadioShack Nissan’s Andy Schleck, then riding with Saxo Bank, the team Contador rode with last season and which released him from his contract when the CAS verdict was announced.
In reaching that decision, the mystery witness’s testimony, submitted by WADA on 11 May last year, was not heard by the panel.
In its final award, the CAS says that Contador’s legal team had refused to permit the protection of anonymity, which had been sought because the witness reportedly feared for the consequences for himself or his family if his identity were made public.
Contador’s lawyers also said that since the testimony related to events that were alleged to have taken place in 2005 and 2006, when the rider was with Liberty Seguros, they had no bearing on a case connected with his positive test for clenbuterol in 2010.
Citing legislation including Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the CAS panel held that WADA had not demonstrated that the complete protection of the witness’s anonymity justified witholding their identity from Contador and his representatives.
Both Contador and WADA rejected an alternative proposal put forward by the CAS panel that it said “would more adequately balance the interests at stake” and enable the witness to be cross-examined.
While in the case that was actually being decided the exclusion of that witness is, in the final analysis, academic – WADA and the UCI’s appeals were upheld, and Contador received a ban as a result of that 2010 positive test – the episode does leave some intriguing questions unanswered.
The testimony, relating to 2005 and 2006, appears almost certainly to have been connected to Operacion Puerto, the blood doping enquiry focused on Dr Eufemiano Fuentes broken up by the Spanish authorities in Spring 2006, in which the Liberty Seguros team was heavily implicated. Excluded from the Tour de France, its title sponsor departed, and the team would re-emerge as Astana.
Initially, Contador himself was also investigated, although he was subsequently told he was no longer under suspicion.
Scarponi, who was promoted to 2011 Giro d’Italia winner after Contador was stripped of that title, was banned for 18 months in 2007 for his links to Operacion Puerto. His co-operation with anti-doping authorities in Italy meant he escaped a two-year ban.
The same year, Jaksche too admitted his involvement. It is those public confessions, plus their employment by the Liberty Seguros team of the period, that has led ABC to its hypothesis that one of them is WADA’s protected witness.
While it was the 2010 positive test for clenbuterol that was the issue being ruled upon, with WADA presumably seeking to introduce evidence of prior doping on Contador’s part to weaken his defence, any allegations against him relating to Operacion Puerto would have seen the Spanish authorities being urged to reopen his file.
For now, however, it remains the case that no Spanish rider has had disciplinary proceedings opened against them by the RFEC for links to the case, all the more surprising because it took place in Spain and the doctors and team staff involved are from that country – indeed, Fuentes and others face trial on criminal charges relating to the investigation.
Riders from other countries have of course been sanctioned, including Ivan Basso, banned for two years – although like Scarponi, he only ever admitted preparing to engage in doping activities, rather than committing the offence himself – and Jan Ullrich, who lost his 2005 Tour de France third place after CAS earlier this month stripped the now-retired rider of results from 1 May of that year onwards.
The only Spanish rider ever sanctioned in connection with Puerto is Alejandro Valverde, whose two year ban expired at the end of last year; in his case, the ban resulted from the UCI and WADA successfully appealing to have a ban imposed on him by the Italian national Olympic committee, CONI, from competing in Italy extended worldwide.
ABC’s report appears on the day that Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis appeared before the UCI ‘s Licensing Commission in a hearing that will decide whether the Danish outfit will keep its ProTeam status following the loss of points accumulated on its behalf by Contador last season; potentially, it could be demoted to UCI Professional Continental status.
In a hard-hitting blog published by the Gazzetta dello Sport today, former Giro d’Italia director Angelo Zomegnan, who presided over the race for the final time as Contador won it last year – he’d previously triumphed in 2008 – set forth a number of reasons he believes Riis himself should not be allowed a UCI licence, starting with the Dane’s own confession that his 1996 Tour de France win had been achieved with the help of EPO.
The UCI introduced a rule last year to prevent those found guilty of infringing its anti-doping code as riders from playing a role in team managemet following the end of their racing careers. Riis was never officially sanctioned, but his confession in May 2007 means it is unlikely he would be allowed into the position he now occupies under the rules currently in force, which only apply to those taking up their posts after 1 July 2011.
Intriguingly, Zomegnan, who says that he would not normally agree with sources wishing to protect their anonymity but believes that the circumstances here may outweigh that, has also issued a public appeal for WADA’s ‘Mr X’ to come forward and share what he knows, potentially making public any allegations that can be substantiated.
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.