Alejandro Valverde has continued to protest his innocence even as he prepares to returns to racing after suspension for his implication in Operacion Puerto. The Spaniard is to be formally presented as a Movistar rider on Wednesday following the expiration of his ban on January 1.
Valverde has been sidelined since mid-2010 after DNA evidence matched a blood bag seized from Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes to a sample provided by the rider at the 2008 Tour de France. Speaking to El Tiempo, Valverde claimed that he did not understand the reason for his suspension.
“Not yet. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything legally. My conscience is clear. I’m only thinking about coming back racing,” he said.
Although Valverde was not prevented from riding the Tour de France when news of Operacion Puerto first broke in June 2006, he was soon implicated in the affair as the investigation continued.
A blood sample taken on the rest day of the 2008 Tour de France in Italy would ultimately prove to be Valverde’s undoing, albeit after a lengthy legal process. In 2009, the Italian Olympic Committee banned Valverde from competition in Italy after matching his DNA to blood bags seized in Operacion Puerto. On May 31, 2010, CAS finally upheld appeals from the UCI and WADA to have his ban extended worldwide, four years after Fuentes was first arrested.
“I suggested that they compare it [his DNA – ed.] in a neutral laboratory, but they refused this in Italy, and for that they sanctioned me because they compared my DNA in that country without my presence,” Valverde said. “They said that the plasma bag was mine, but they wouldn’t even do that to a criminal. None of what they did was legal.”
Valverde said that he had considered retirement during his three years fighting censure, a period in which he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Clasica San Sebastian, the 2008 ProTour title and the 2009 Vuelta a España. He also claimed that his suspension, which was backdated to January 1, 2010, came as something of a relief.
“When they persecuted me I thought of [retirement] a lot of times, but when they sanctioned me, I felt liberated, without pressure,” he said.
During his 18 months away from competitive action, Valverde continued to train, and it was little surprise when he re-signed with Movistar ahead of the 2012 season. The 31-year-old was riding for the outfit, then sponsored by Caisse d’Epargne, when he was sanctioned.
“I turned the page quickly. I looked after myself, I trained and I’m happy to be back,” he said.
Valverde makes his return to competitive action at the Santos Tour Down Under, which gets underway on January 17.