Delays mark start of Operación Puerto hearing

The Operación Puerto hearings got underway in Madrid today, but the long awaited testimony by Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor who ran the blood doping clinic, was postponed until Tuesday.

Since the USADA case against Lance Armstrong, the case caught the attention of the world's mainstream media, and Fuentes was mobbed by photographers as he arrived at the court on Monday morning.

Fuentes, his sister Yolanda, ex-Liberty Seguros director Manolo Saiz, the trainer and the director of Comunidad Valenciana, José Ignacio Labarta and Vicente Belda, are facing charges of crimes against public health. Charges against José Luis Merino Batres, who assisted Fuentes in the clinic, were dismissed for health reasons, as he suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

Fuentes ran the Madrid clinic that was busted by the Guardia Civil in 2006. Police discovered over 200 blood bags, performance enhancing drugs and other evidence including coded documentation with links to dozens of cyclists and athletes from other sports.

Only cycling has taken up the cause of investigating the case for anti-doping rule violates, despite Fuentes admitting that he treated professional footballers and tennis players. Details of the operation were given in Tyler Hamilton's book, "The Secret Race" as well as in sworn affidavits which were part of the Armstrong case.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has called for investigators to release information about the identity of athletes from other sports, but has met with resistance from the Spanish authorities. "We want people to share that information through Interpol or some other means so that everyone can benefit from it. We were told it wasn't just one sport. But we've never been given the follow-up data. This has so far proved to be a very unfair caricature of one sport, where there were others involved," the agency's director general David Howman told the Guardian.

The Italian Olympic Committee suspended Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi as clients of Fuentes, and the UCI successfully pursued Alejandro Valverde in connection with the case.

Several cyclists are scheduled to give testimony in the case, including Jesus Manzano, whose attorney was present outside the courthouse today.

"Manzano pulled out of professional cycling as a consequence of these practices," Carlos Suarez told reporters according to the Associated Press.

"Under examination is the raising of hematocrit levels in blood, and in particular the conservation, extraction, transfusion and the transport of the plasma and the blood. All this carries a risk for the athlete."

Because doping was not a crime in Spain in 2006, the case hinges on proving that the practices risked harming the health of the athletes involved.

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