Roberto Heras has not had much of a Christmas break, according to Spanish sports daily Marca. Instead, Heras and his lawyers have been busy preparing to defend Heras against the charge of using banned red cell booster erythropoietin at the Vuelta a Espana.
Heras is scheduled to appear before the competition committee of the Spanish Cycling federation, the RFEC, on January 13 after returning a positive test for EPO at stage 20 of the Vuelta. "We are still obtaining information and documents," said Heras' lawyer José María Buxeda, "but I believe we will represent him well. I believe we are right and I believe - and this is more important - that we can prove it."
Buxeda believes there were flaws in the test procedure whose results, if upheld, would almost certainly end his client's career. "Errors in the procedure have been uncovered and anyway the method is not very reliable because it can return false positives."
Heras' legal team had identified seven or eight errors of procedure, according to Buxeda, among them, "the vials were [stored] for 36 hours without the necessary cooling, from five in the afternoon on Saturday to ten in the morning on Monday." Buxeda also claims that the Madrid laboratory is not accredited by the Spanish national accreditation authority, ENAC (Entidad Nacional de Acreditación).
The EPO test has also been found to return false positives, and that is cause for optimism for Buxeda. The test "is not sufficiently specific and can confuse proteins produced in situations of maximum stress with those produced by recombinant EPO," he said. "This is the explanation of many false positive cases that have been produced recently, because Heras' case is not unique."
Buxeda believes this factors will be sufficient that the RFEC will exonerate Heras. If the positive finding is upheld and Heras receives the likely two-year suspension, then the next step will be an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport or, more likely, the regular Spanish courts.
Cyclingnews coverage of the Heras case
November 8: Heras suspended
November 9: Heras blames "Lab error" for test result
November 10: Heras' B sample analysed by three labs
November 12: Liberty will fire Heras
November 21: Heras' counter-analysis "might be surprising"
November 24: Heras B test will take longer
November 25: Heras confirmed positive
November 27: Heras case gives UCI "unconditional confidence" in EPO test
November 28: Heras in denial