News feature, November 30, 2006.
UCI President Pat McQuaid has expressed his frustration with the current situation vis-à-vis the Operación Puerto investigation, sending a strongly worded letter to Spanish minister of sport, Jaime Lissavetzky. The story was earlier reported here but Cyclingnews has since obtained a copy of the communication which provides a clearer picture of the reasons for the UCI's discontent.
In the letter, McQuaid commences by passing on his condolences to all affected by the tragic death of Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears rider and current world Madison champion Isaac Gálvez in Gent last weekend. He then moves on to the Operación Puerto situation, voicing his concern that despite the ongoing leak of information into the public domain, the UCI still, effectively, has its hands tied and cannot act.
"You understand, as we have discussed previously, this affair is doing enormous damage to the credibility of our sport," writes McQuaid. "This began with the continuous leaks to the media of material related to the investigation all through 2006. Then the judge, having provided us with relevant material for use in a sports disciplinary process and the UCI having spent an enormous amount of time, effort and money on preparing the dossiers of each case, in October announced that we cannot now use any of the information to process and possibly eventually sanction riders.
"Now this past weekend we are once again faced with leaks of information to the Spanish media of important, confidential information from the investigation, the substance and presentation of which is damning of certain cyclists referred to. And the UCI can do absolutely nothing about this. We cannot, as we would dearly like to do, use the information to discipline and sanction riders involved. Indeed we must legally allow these riders to continue to race throughout 2007 until this investigation concludes at which time we might, and I say might, be supplied with enough evidence to go after those riders allegedly involved."
McQuaid's strong reaction follows the news that Spanish investigators had matched code names to the bags of blood found to contain excess EPO.
In early October the judge stated that evidence from Operación Puerto cannot be used to sanction riders until such time as the judicial proceedings have finished. As a result of this, investigations into riders such as Ivan Basso, Francisco Mancebo, Jörg Jaksche and others have had to be shelved, clearing the way for them to return to competition. However more information is continuing to emerge about alleged doping practices and McQuaid clearly feels that this is putting the UCI into a very complicated situation.
He concludes the letter by appealing to Lissavetzky to take action on the matter. "I hope now you can understand the serious and untenable position which the UCI finds itself in and that if this practice of leaking information to the media continues unabated throughout 2007, then the damage to our sport will be irreparable.
"Although being cognisant of the independence of the judicial system in Spain I would however appeal to you to do all in your power to impress upon the investigating judge the seriousness of the situation. Indeed whilst I am aware that his only interest is in the criminal nature of the case, nevertheless you should ask him to consider the damage being done to our sport and out of respect to the UCI, the international governing body of the sport, he should consider the position we are in. Indeed we would greatly appreciate his cooperation and assistance to allow us to act in such a way as to regain and retain the credibility of our sport.
"The situation is ridiculous. It is serious and indeed exasperating for the UCI, I would appeal to you to do all that you can to help."
A copy of the letter was also sent to IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge, WADA Director General David Howman, RFEC (Spanish Cycling Federation) President M. Fulgencio Sanchez Montesinos and Denis Oswald, President of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.
When contacted by Cyclingnews yesterday with regard to the possible shortening of the Vuelta a España, McQuaid was also asked about WADA's involvement with the situation. The UCI previously called for the anti-doping agency's help when it emerged that it would not be able to take disciplinary action until after the judicial proceedings had concluded.
"WADA are constantly on the case," he said yesterday. "They are continuous communication with Spain and have actually sent somebody there. They do understand our situation and the difficult position that cycling is in."
McQuaid is also known to be deeply frustrated by the continuing silence relating to the supposed implication of other sports in the Operación Puerto affair. When the scandal first broke, it was widely reported that competitors from football, athletics, basketball and tennis were involved. Spanish investigators later stated this was not the case, but this denial was strongly contradicted in July by the doctor concerned, Eufemiano Fuentes.
"I have done the same thing with other sports," he said on the sports program El Larguero (SER). "I have given advice on treatments for football teams, athletes, and tennis players, among other sports. My professional oath forbids me from revealing their names. There have been only selective leaks. I am indignant about that."
This was backed up by former Kelme pro turned whistleblower Jesus Manzano in September.
"I saw well-known footballers [while being treated by Fuentes], but I cannot say how many," he told France 3 television, adding, "this doctor takes care [of athletes] from all over the world."
However there has been very little information about these other sportspeople, leading some to speculate that a cover-up is in place.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'
April 2, 2009 - Valverde indignant over possible suspension
April 1, 2009 - Valverde: Italy requests two-year suspension
March 13, 2009 - Le Monde newspaper hit with fine over Puerto allegations
March 2, 2009 - WADA president Fahey asks for Puerto evidence
February 24, 2009 - Spanish federation seeks access to Puerto blood bags
February 20, 2009 - CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict
February 19, 2009 - Valverde under criminal investigation
February 11, 2009 - Valverde summonsed for Operación Puerto in Italy
February 8, 2009 - Eight charged in Operación Puerto