By Anthony Tan in Gemona Del Friuli, Italy, with additional reporting from Hernan Alvarez
In the wake of Manolo Saiz's recent detention for his alleged involvement in a blood doping program, Spanish news agency EFE has just released a newsflash, announcing primary sponsor Liberty Seguros have chosen to cancel their cycling sponsorship from the Liberty Seguros-Würth team, effective immediately. The team's press officer, Jacinto Vidarte, confirmed the annoucement with Cyclingnews.
Saiz as well as four other people were arrested by the Spanish civil guard as part of an anti-doping operation called "Operacion Puerto", where he was reported to be carrying 60.000 Euros in UE currency and Swiss francs. No doubt, a clause exists in Liberty Seguros' contract with Active Bay SL, the team's holding company, enabling the former to annul their sponsorship contract if a serious doping situation arises.
"As sponsor, Liberty Seguros has always wanted fair play and a zero tolerance culture to prevail in doping matters," said a statement from the sponsor.
"On November 2005, as a consequence of a rider being banned [referring to Roberto Heras-ed.] because of doping, we reinforced the clauses in order to get one of the strictest sponsorship contracts in terms of anti-doping. The implications as a result of Manolo Saiz's arrest are of great concern. They harm our name and cycling's name," said the announcement.
"Operacion Puerto" began on May 23. It not only affects Manolo Saiz, who was released yesterday by the civil guard but also former team doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, laboratory responsible Jose Luis Merino Batres, assistant Comunidad Valenciana team director Ignacio Labarta, and ex-mountain bike rider Alberto Leon. According to an EFE report, the guard found hormones, anabolic steroids and packets of blood and material to perform blood transfusions.
The guard allegedly found a list with 200 Spanish and non-Spanish cyclists' names linked to doping practices.
How this will affect the six Liberty riders currently racing the Giro d'Italia or the immediate future of the team is not yet known.