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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) savors his time in the golden jersey.
Later UCI/WADA appeal to CAS will determine if global ban applies
Alejandro Valverde learned this week that he will have a hearing with CAS on November 16th to present his argument against the ban imposed by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). But it will be some time longer before he finds out if he will be served with a worldwide ban.
The Spanish Caise d'Epargne rider is facing not one but two appeals before CAS. The first relates to a CONI decision taken on May 11th of this year, which banned him from racing for two years in Italy.
That decision was taken on the basis of a positive DNA match between Valverde and blood bags seized in the Operacion Puerto raids in Madrid in May 2006. He's always denied his involvement in the Eufemiano Fuentes doping ring but, according to CONI, DNA analysis of blood samples provided during last year's Tour conclusively prove that he is indeed the rider code named ‘Valv. Piti'.
CONI's ban applies only to events held on Italian soil. As stage 16 of this year's Tour passed through the country, he was unable to take part in the race.
However, contrary to some media reports, the November 16th hearing will not have a direct influence on a possible global ban. That will be determined by a later hearing with CAS, which will be considering a joint UCI/WADA appeal against the Spanish federation (RFEC).
The UCI, cycling's governing body, and the World Anti-Doping Agency are both frustrated with the Spanish federation as it refused to consider sanctioning Valverde in relation to the Puerto links. They hope that the CAS appeal will pave the way for an eventual global suspension.
Should Valverde win the November 16th appeal, it will simply mean that he can once again race in Italy.
It will be the later hearing which will determine if the rider will, over three years after the Puerto raids, be finally served with a worldwide suspension. Cyclingnews has been in regular contact with CAS and was recently told that the date of that second hearing has not yet been set.
The UCI tried to block Valverde competing as far back as 2007. An attempt then to bar him from the Stuttgart world championships was overturned by CAS, but since then more evidence has come to light.
If the Spaniard is indeed found guilty, the result will provoke mixed feelings within the UCI. While it will feel vindicated by the outcome, it will also mean that the reigning Vuelta a España champion will have been judged guilty of a serious doping offence.
It remains to be seen if Valverde would then be stripped of his title, or if that result would be allowed to stand.
"The whole case is very, very technical," admitted UCI President Pat McQuaid to Cyclingnews on Thursday. The Spanish investigation looking into Operación Puerto has ensured this, with lengthy delays in the legal case preventing sporting bodies from taking action.
Judge Antonio Serrano has already said that athletes will not be prosecuted as a Spanish anti-doping law was only passed after the May 2006 raids.
The RFEC has shown reluctance to fully investigate Valverde's links with Eufemiano Fuentes. However the German and Italian authorities have been more proactive, with a positive DNA match between Jan Ullrich and blood bags being proven as far back as April 2007.
Facing the same sort of examination, Ivan Basso admitted his involvement to CONI soon afterwards. He served a lengthy ban before returning to racing one year ago. Ullrich has not competed since withdrawing from the 2006 Tour de France.