By Gregor Brown
The name of Eufemiano Fuentes will forever be linked with cycling in the 2000s. The Spanish Doctor was at the centre of the Operación Puerto affair and connected to cyclists with the code names of Birillo, Hijo Rudicio, Valv.Piti and Zapatero. The 52 year-old recently spoke out during a sports medicine conference on the Canary Islands.
"They considered me a criminal. The papers were printed with my name and photos of me, while talking of hidden trafficking using initials," Fuentes said to Filippo Maria Ricci of La Gazzetta dello Sport. The resident of San Bartolomé de Tirajana (Gran Canaria, Canary Islands) was arrested shortly after the case came to public light in May 2006. "The judgement for the journalists was already written, and instead I was released. The €120,000 bail? I have not yet received it back because there is an appeal against the sentence."
Yesterday, the Italian newspaper reported Fuentes saying it was impossible to race the current Grand Tours without 'assistance.' ("You cannot race a tour on bread and water.") "When I arrived in cycling, at the end of the 1980s, every rider had his own 'case' [containing illegal products - ed.]. It was stupid to me. I convinced them to leave it to me; it was better to only have one suitcase, which I carried. I am not here to say if something is positive or negative, nor if something is positive or wrongly defined."
Fuentes worked early on in his cycling career for Kelme, a team based in southern Spain. At the time when Puerto was revealed, it was believed that he worked independently with cyclists, taking money in exchange for medical 'support' – such as blood transfers and EPO (Erythropoietin) boosts. The anti-doping laws that existed in Spain two years ago, unlike the stricter regulations in Italy and France, worked in his favour, and he was able to avoid prosecution.
"I know, but what does it matter? They accused me and they were not able to prove anything, also the doctors always want what is best for their patients," he commented the lack of anti-doping laws. Now the laws have changed, but Fuentes still saw a problem with how controls are carried out. "With these new laws who has to make the anti-doping controls? The UCI? No, because it is an private organisation. It is like the association against drunk drivers that do breathalyser tests. What value does it have? The controls have to be carried out by the police."
German investigators want to call Fuentes to testify in the case against Jan Ullrich. They reportedly have bank details that show the 1997 Tour de France winner made payments to a back account of the doctor. "They will call me for the process of Ullrich and the case between Le Monde and Barcelona? They have not communicated anything to me. Anyway, I have no intention of leaving from here [Gran Canaria - ed.], they will have to come and find me."
On the island he has become a well-known figure. "One time an older guy said to me, 'I have already seen your face, is it possible?' 'It is possible,' I said, 'I am the famous cycling criminal.'"
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