By Monika Prell
The French bank Caisse d'Epargne, sponsor of the cycling team of the same name, has denied its opposition to the presence of Alejandro Valverde on the team, contrary to a report published in L'Equipe yesterday.
"We are a bank and we don't understand anything of cycling, the relationships with the riders are the responsibility of the cycling team we have a contract of sponsorship with, but we don't have contractual relations with the riders," said Caisse d'Epargne spokesperson Anne-Sophie Jourdain to AS.
In its article, L'Equipe reported the bank had a meeting with team managers in order to advise it of the presence of some riders in its team who are supposedly implicated in Operación Puerto. Jourdain confirmed that a meeting took place, but denied it was connected to recent reports linking Caisse d'Epargne riders Valverde, Rubén Plaza and Constantino Zaballa to the doping network of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
"It's true that there was a meeting [on Monday] morning, but that is something normal, routine," she explained. "It was nothing to deal with the rumours about doping that appeared in the media. There is no reason why we should campaign against the team."
Caisse d'Epargne has a contract with the team's owners, Grupo Abarca Sports directed by José Miguel Echavarri, who supposedly shares the same anti-doping vision as the bank. "The only problem would be if it's demonstrated that there exists an organised doping network inside the team, in this case the contract would be broken," assured Jourdain.
The spokesperson indicated that "in the case of Valverde, there exists nothing neither from a medical aspect nor from a judicial aspect that indicates he has doped. These are only rumours that in the world of cycling are not unusual."
Jourdain also defended Rubén Plaza and Constantino Zaballa, contrary to the L'Equipe article that spoke about the anxiety of the sponsor about the presence of the two Spaniards in the team. Both were withdrawn from the team's Giro d'Italia line-up at the last minute, but Jourdain insisted "there exists no judicial proof against them."
Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport alleged last week that blood bags labelled with the name 'Valv(Piti)' and the number '18' were those of Valverde. Piti, according to the paper, is the name of Valverde's dog.
Plaza, a former Kelme rider, signed a contract with Caisse d'Epargne immediately after judge Antonio Serrano shelved the Puerto case. Zaballa was also distanced from the team for some months, but is now competing again.