Caisse d’Epargne manager Eusebio Unzue has spoken out in defence of his erstwhile team leader Alejandro Valverde at a Foro Ferrandíz-AS conference entitled the “Regeneration of Cycling” in Alcobendas. After a long-running saga, the Spanish rider was finally banned for his part in Operacion Puerto in May of this year.
“Alejandro Valverde is the man who has suffered most,” Unzue said. “This sport cannot sacrifice him; it hasn’t got the right to do so.
“I’m positive about his situation however. I don’t have to say whether the sanction is just or not, it’s not up to me,” he said. “We’re working to see if we can get him back as soon as possible.”
When the 2008 Tour de France entered Italy, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) took blood samples from Valverde, which it matched to evidence from the Operacion Puerto case. CONI subsequently handed Valverde a two-year ban from competing in Italy in May 2009, and the ban became worldwide in May of this year. As his suspension was backdated to January 1, Valverde can return to racing at the start of 2012.
Unzue, who described himself as a “defender of cycling”, admitted that the sport had been ill-served by its own mistakes, albeit “in a manner disproportionate to what we deserved, and something that we don’t see in other sports.
“Now we’re on an upwards trajectory and the arrival of Movistar is a sign of this,” he said. The telecommunications company stepped into the breach in August this year and took over sponsorship of Unzue’s team for 2011 after the withdrawal of Caisse d’Epargne.
“We don’t have a big leader but we have a lot of very talented riders of a certain level and the structures in place for the arrival of a big leader. We also hope to see some of our existing riders progress and develop,” he said.
Unzue was also optimistic about Spain’s continued place at the head of international cycling. “This was traditionally a European sport, and indeed a very Latin sport, and yet now there are four American teams and British, German and Swiss teams, but fewer in Spain, Italy and France,” he said. “Yet Spanish cycling has been dominant in recent years with our riders always at the head of the rankings.”