By Hedwig Kröner
After announcing that the Tour de France would not welcome Spanish team Comunidad Valenciana at this year's event, organisers say they are now waiting for the UCI to take a decision concerning the attribution of a ProTour licence to the team formerly known as Liberty Seguros-Würth.
In an official communiqué, ASO made it clear that it welcomed the retreat of Manolo Saiz from cycling and therefore the Tour de France - "which the organisation would have called for anyway" - but that the inclusion or non-participation of the team now depended on the UCI licences commission.
"Because the system of participation in place this year, except for invitations, is for the International Cycling Union to decide, through the attribution of licences by a commission, the management of the Tour de France is awaiting the expected decision of this commission about the presence of a team, of which one of its shareholders is implicated in a doping affair," the statement read.
By making the participation of the Würth team dependent on the UCI licences commission, ASO hands the responsibility over to the organisation presided by Pat McQuaid, even if, in the past, the Tour de France organisers have made a public point about the fact that they are not officially part of the UCI ProTour. The commission is still analysing the sponsorship contract and financial resources of the new main sponsor of the Spanish squad, Astana, brought about with the help of the Kazakhstan government.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has also criticised the "long silence" of the UCI on Tuesday, according to German Radsportnews. "It should have decided already before the Dauphiné," Prudhomme reportedly said, adding, "There are many independent commissions at the UCI" - referring to the independent investigation of the L'Equipe revelations about Lance Armstrong, conducted by a Dutch lawyer commissioned by former UCI president, Hein Verbruggen.
Pressure is also being put on the Spanish legal authorities. "If riders or members of staff are incriminated by the Spanish judiciary before the start or during the race, the code of ethics which was elaborated by the teams and provides for the non-participation or retreat of the concerned persons, will be applied without hesitation," the statement continued.
Unlike the presumed head of the doping network, doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, and other accused persons including the former directeur sportif of the Comunidad Valenciana team, Würth's Manolo Saiz has not yet been incriminated by the Spanish court in charge of the affair, despite having being arrested. Also, the 'secrets' of the initial investigation are still not fully known, and the approximate two-hundred names that were reportedly found in Fuentes' apartment are still in the hands of the Madrid court, visited last week by UCI president Pat McQuaid.
Some observers think that it would help the future of the Spanish team if Manolo Saiz would sell his shares of Active Bay, which amount to 51 percent of the company managing the cycling team. In fact, he is currently being asked to do so. But according to ASO at least, it would seem the main responsibility for the scope of this new doping affair - "bigger than Festina" according to Lance Armstrong - and the public image of cycling, now lies with the UCI, which used to have close ties to Manolo Saiz.
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