By Shane Stokes
The fallout from Operación Puerto continues to rumble on, with the Spanish press today stating that ProTour 2006 winner Alejandro Valverde is one of several high profile riders circumstantially linked to the controversial Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
According to the paper ABC, when Fuentes was arrested in Madrid last May 23rd he had in his possession a black wallet which contained one clearly identifiable name; that of Valverde. When police searched it they found nine credit cards, a card from 2004 bearing the names and numbers of the Liberty Seguros team, business cards belonging to Mario Zorzoli (medical chief of the UCI) and Emilio Lamparero, who the paper reported has worked as a psychologist with football club Real Madrid. Most interestingly, there was also a card from the hotel Silken with the names "Ale," "Manc," "Vino," "Popo" and "Valverde" written on it.
The paper states that riders often stay in the Puerta de Madrid, part of the Silken chain. Apart from Valverde, ABC does not speculate on the identities of the riders listed, but the fact that the names correspond with nicknames of some of the biggest riders in the sport will have attracted the attention of the investigators.
According to the writer Jose Carlos Carabias, this evidence has been given the code number of 42.748.448 in the Operación Puerto investigation. He also states that Dr. Fuentes used ten different mobile phones in the course of his business.
The Guardia Civil, the Superior Council of Deportes and the Real Spanish Federation of Cycling always have denied any link between Alejandro Valverde and Operación Puerto. However ABC makes a connection between this latest news and the mention of someone named "Valv." (Piti) in Fuentes' notes. It claims that the Murcian newspaper La Verdad and other papers have said that he has, or had, a dog named Piti; investigators have long theorised that Fuentes used pet names as codewords for some of the riders.
ABC also said that Valverde was given the code number 18 and draws a link between this and the bags of blood found to contain elevated levels of EPO (Erythropoietin) by the analysis laboratory at the Hospital del Mar de Barcelona on November 15. Eight of the 99 bags were deemed suspicious, with the newspaper saying that three of these corresponded to rider 5, Sevillano (alleged to be Oscar Sevilla). The others were connected to the aliases "Klaus," "Falla," "Mari," "Gemma" and "number 18."
Valverde has stated that he worked with Fuentes when he was the official doctor of the Kelme team, but has always denied that he was given any doping products.
In recent days rumours have been rife that the Spaniard was set to join the T-Mobile team. However yesterday T-Mobile press officer Stefan Wagner denied that there had been any recent talks with the Vuelta 2006 runner-up.
"Last year, the team management drafted a list of interesting riders, and we tried to talk with everyone on this list to see if there could be a general fit with our team and its philosophy. A third party informed us of interest from Valverde in joining the T-Mobile Team," he said.
"So Bob and Rolf met him in early December in Murcia for the first and only time. They had a discussion with him for a couple of hours to see if there could be a general fit with our team, and more specifically with the team philosophy and our commitment to clean and fair sport. After this meeting, there was a follow-up phone call a few days later and we sent him a proposal with several conditions."
These conditions included DNA testing, a cash-back clause, routine medical checks and blood volume testing - but also confirmation that Valverde has had no contact with Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of Operación Puerto, nor links to the aforementioned investigation. "We haven't heard anything from him or his manager since this phone call. At no time was there direct contact with his team," Wagner stated.
Today's ABC newspaper quotes T-Mobile's Christian Frommert as saying that reports the team was about to sign Valverde was "absolute nonsense."
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