Doubts still linger over Vuelta’s new leader

Valverde in gold but could still face further ban

Alejandro Valverde could not have picked a better day to move into the gold leader’s jersey at the Vuelta. Having edged Cadel Evans out of the lead thanks to the bonus time he gained at stage nine’s finish at Xorret de Catí, Valverde will ride into his home city of Murcia on Tuesday looking an increasingly strong favourite for the overall title.

However, not only Valverde’s leadership but even his presence at the Vuelta is beset with controversy. Sidelined from the Tour de France after the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) alleged that DNA evidence proved his involvement in the Operación Puerto blood doping affair, the Spaniard has continued to race thanks to the decision of his national federation (RFEC) not to take any disciplinary action against him.

The UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency are challenging that decision by way of an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. For his part, Valverde is also dealing with the CAS having appealed against CONI’s decision to ban him from racing in Italy.

Speaking to Cyclingnews after Valverde took the lead in the Spain, UCI president Pat McQuaid was unable to say when the CAS will rule on the UCI-WADA appeal. "It is still outstanding with the CAS," McQuaid said. “The Valverde appeal against the CONI decision is also still with the CAS. Until those processes are concluded, he is free to race. There is nothing we can do until a verdict is reached."

McQuaid also stated: "I agree that it is unfortunate for fans that we’re in this situation, but we have to follow the rules."

Consequently, assuming Valverde can maintain his grip on the gold jersey until the Vuelta finishes in Madrid a week on Sunday, his victory may not be confirmed for some time. In the event of the CAS finding in favour of the CONI and the UCI-WADA in these cases, Valverde is likely to face a worldwide ban imposed retrospectively, potentially disqualifying him from the Vuelta’s standings.

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