By Susan Westemeyer and Laura Weislo
Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, the man in the centre of the Operación Puerto case, only wanted to help cyclists with his "therapeutic medicine," he said in an interview with the German news magazine Stern. In the second interview made public after a conference recently held in Spain, Fuentes guessed at how his medical practices would be thought of in the future, postulating, "Perhaps in 20 years they will give me the Nobel Prize; maybe they will build me a memorial. Or they will kill me."
Operación Puerto began when Spanish authorities raided a Madrid clinic run by Fuentes and found hundreds of bags of stored blood as well as performance enhancing drugs. The sting also reportedly netted intercepted phone conversations, videos of various figures coming to the clinic, and documents detailing doping regimens.
Fuentes, who was one of several arrested in the 2006 operation, has been involved in the sport since the 1980s and admitted to helping cyclists dope. He called professional sport a circus "in which the athlete's health takes second place". He offered his medical services to riders who he claims were already medicating themselves, justifying it by saying, "The body of a professional cyclist is not made for three weeks of permanent stress."
Fuentes went on to distinguish his brand of medical services from uneducated doping. "In doping everything is lumped together. But the use of a substance by someone who knows what he is doing – that is something else."
Puerto fallout continued through 2007
In the 18 months since the Operación Puerto case hit the news, the evidence of large scale, organised doping rippled through the sport, causing havoc for teams and riders alike. Liberty Seguros and Comunidad Valenciana were the first major sponsors to leave the sport because of the affair, while this year's loss of T-Mobile and the demise of the Discovery Channel team can be linked to the negative publicity generating by the doping news from Puerto.
Few of 58 riders initially named have been either cleared or sanctioned. Some riders have returned to racing, some still face an uphill battle; handicapped by the lack of a conclusion to the case and a possible future of more action from the UCI or other authorities. Others were cleared, but still faced resistance this year from the UCI and some race organizers who were afraid to host any rider even remotely tied to the scandal.
However, other than the repeated confessions of Jörg Jaksche, admissions by Basso and Italian Michele Scarponi and the DNA link from Ullrich to blood bags from the clinic, no other rider has been either sanctioned or admitted to involvement. This leaves a large number of riders in limbo - tainted by a connection to the case which may or may not prove to be true.
The fallout from the case has rippled through the peloton in the past year and half. Despite being cleared not long after the initial reports in 2006, Allan Davis was threatened with exclusion from the 2007 World Championships more than a year later. Alberto Contador, after winning the Tour de France, was hounded by reports of his connection to the case, despite his also being cleared at the same time as Davis.
Other named riders continued to race, but were forced to take a step down from the ProTour ranks, where teams were bound by a code of ethics not to sign implicated riders. Francisco Mancebo spent the season riding alongside Oscar Sevilla on the Relax-GAM team before both were sent scrambling when the team lost its sponsor. Santiago Botero stayed in his native Colombia after being cleared by his national federation, but is rumoured to be moving to the American domestic squad Rock & Republic along with Tyler Hamilton, who was suspended from his Tinkoff team after being named in the extended version of the Puerto dossier.
The 6,000 page dossier caused the most pain for Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who, like nearly all of the Puerto named riders, continually asserted his innocence. Valverde took the UCI to court to get into the World Championships and has fought off suspicions all season.
With a total of 107 riders allegedly named in the dossier but only four either admitting or tied to the blood bags with concrete evidence, the potential for more casualties in 2008 is high.
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