By Daniel Friebe in Varese
UCI anti-doping czar Anne Gripper on Saturday defended her organization's decision to allow Fränk Schleck to start the World Championship road race, echoing Pat McQuaid's earlier claim that there wasn't sufficient evidence to stop Schleck competing.
Speaking to reporters immediately after a press conference in which McQuaid effectively gave Schleck the green light to race on Sunday, Gripper admitted that the UCI "simply didn't have time" to obtain and verify the incriminating information cited by a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung before Sunday's race.
According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Luxembourg's public state prosecutor Robert Biever is in possession of bank records showing that Schleck paid close to 7,000 euro into a Swiss bank account allegedly owned by Fuentes in March 2006.
"Even if we get those documents, we have to seek very strong legal advice," Gripper said. "We have to check the evidence very, very carefully. I know it's frustrating, but that's what we have to do to ensure fairness. I can assure you that we'll do the checks. We're acting on all sorts of evidence all the time.
"You have to remember that sometimes when situations arise through judicial or law-making authorities, it's not possible to release information to a sporting organisation - they have to go through criminal procedures first, so we have to find out what's available first. Sometimes it takes a long time to obtain the information. Look at how long it's taken in Operación Puerto," she added.
Also on Saturday, Gripper said she had no information on the names of the riders whose suspect blood samples from this year's Tour de France will be re-tested by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) this week. Gripper did, however, confirm that the recent end of the war between the UCI and Tour organisers ASO meant that the UCI anti-doping commission, and not the AFLD, would take on testing duties at the 2009 Tour.
The announcement of yet more positives tests from this year's Tour would surely cause more embarrassment for the UCI, given that the AFLD has already managed to unmask more high-profile cheats in the three week of the Tour than the UCI has managed all year.
Gripper, however, rejected this, suggesting that the AFLD's tests claimed so many victims because they happened to coincide with the advent of a testing method for the blood-booster Mircera.
"I think in this case, it's just an indication that the detection methods have caught up more quickly than normal with what riders are doing," Gripper said. "Normally it takes a bit of time, but this time it came very quickly after riders started using this product. It's a great example of how riders can't afford to take any risk with what's undetectable. The mechanisms of catching them are getting better all the time."
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