By Shane Stokes in Stuttgart, Germany
Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde will be allowed to ride the elite men's road race on Sunday after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Wednesday against the UCI's bid to keep him out of the World Championships.
Valverde is suspected of involvement in Operación Puerto but despite a request earlier this month from the UCI asking the Spanish federation not to select him for the race, his name was put forward as part of the squad. Both sides agreed to let CAS settle the case, and Wednesday's ruling means that there is now no barrier to his involvement.
"The UCI lost today the case with Valverde, the case against the Spanish federation," explained President Pat McQuaid to a packed conference room in the Stuttgart world championship media centre. "As you all know, the UCI had agreed to go to CAS and we now accept their decision. The Court of Arbitration for Sport makes sports-related decisions and we accept it as a sports-related decision. It doesn't to our mind indicate that he has been cleared or that he is not implicated in Puerto or anything like that; it just means that they don't feel that the elements are there to prevent us from allowing him to start on Sunday. So Alejandro Valverde will take the start on Sunday."
As McQuaid indicated, CAS has not yet explained the full reasons for its decision. However the latter issued a press release on Wednesday evening which provided some brief details.
"The parties and their representatives were heard today during a hearing at the CAS Court Office in Lausanne, Switzerland," stated the communiqué. "The CAS panel was composed of a sole arbitrator, Mr Quentin Byrne-Sutton from Switzerland."
"The Sole Arbitrator considered that a ban imposed on a cyclist, not yet recognised as guilty of doping, from participating in the World Championships constituted a form of advance sanction. The Sole Arbitrator noted that the provisions of the UCI Rules, upon which the UCI relied in handing down the ban, could be open to several interpretations, and that, notably due to the lack of cooperation with the Spanish judicial and sports authorities, the UCI was prevented from implementing the type of procedure which would allow it to pronounce such a severe sanction whilst maintaining in an adequate manner the rights of the cyclist."
McQuaid and the rest of the UCI were obviously frustrated by the decision, which now raises some uncertainty about the possibility of riders being barred from staring other events while under investigation. When asked how bad a blow it was, he conceded that, "it is not good news. I am disappointed but I wouldn't call it a bad blow. It just allows him to take part in these championships. We would really need to know exactly on what grounds the arbitrator made the decision to understand the reasoning of it.
"But we are in sport, and it is a sporting decision. We took the decision to go to CAS, in fairness to the Spanish federation and Valverde. In relation to the authorities here, there is a lot of pressure on, obviously. I think the authorities here also have to accept the same. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has made the decision, and we have to accept that and allow him take part and hopefully take part in a proper sporting, peaceful way."
When asked if there was any truth to the rumour that the city of Stuttgart was considering legal action against the UCI over the fact that the latter says it cannot block Paolo Bettini from starting the race, despite his non-signature of the full Riders Commitment for a New Cycling, McQuaid declined to answer. He said simply that the UCI's legal team had been in discussions with the organisers and the city of Stuttgart today, this statement suggesting that there is increasing tension behind the scenes despite the UCI's efforts to tackle doping. Valverde's CAS-imposed inclusion in Sunday's elite road race will further add to this.