The field for next month's Tour of Murcia won't include any Italian squads after race organizer Paco Guzmán took the decision to bar them as a protest against the treatment of local cycling hero Alejandro Valverde, who is currently banned from racing in Italy.
"There will be no Italian teams participating due to the fact that they aren't letting Valverde race in that country," Guzmán told sports daily AS. "Alejandro is Murcia's best rider and I don't want them in our race."
Valverde has been banned from racing in Italy for two years after the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) alleged he had been linked to the Operación Puerto blood doping ring based what they have insisted is DNA evidence. Valverde has challenged the ban with an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is due to give a ruling on the case next month.
Asked how he would feel if the CAS ruled against Valverde, Guzmán was adamant he would not be swayed. "We might be mistaken, but I don't like to see how they have treated Valverde and the fact that he is banned in Italy. For that reason I don't want the Italians coming here."
What seems a bizarre decision was described by Spanish cycling federation president Juan Carlos Castaño as "rather illogical". Castaño added: "No action should be taken while the CAS is drawing up its judgment. The Italian teams have got nothing to do with this."
The news is made even more surprising given the fact that Spain's top-line teams have already said that they will not be taking part in the race. This is due to an ongoing dispute between the Spanish race organisers' association and the teams' association about safety issues and appearance payments.
Consequently, the Caisse d'Epargne team that features Valverde as well as fellow Murcian riders Luis León Sánchez, Francisco Pérez and José Joaquín Rojas won't be starting the event. Neither will Euskaltel, Footon-Servetto, Xacobeo nor Andalucía.
In another twist, Madrid's provincial court has ruled that the CONI should not have used evidence from the Puerto case to take action against him. The court added that the CONI was not fit to take action against the Spaniard because the body is not linked to the Italian judiciary.