Almost seven years on from the Operación Puerto investigation, which resulted in several high-profile arrests and the exclusion of a number of cycling’s biggest names from the 2006 Tour de France, five of those at the centre of the inquiry will finally go on trial in Madrid on Monday. Several current and former riders are set to testify in person or via video link, including Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso and Jörg Jaksche.
The five facing charges of a crime against public health are former ONCE and Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz, Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and his sister Dr Yolanda Fuentes, and former Kelme and Comunitat Valenciana directors Vicente Belda and José Ignacio Labarta. If found guilty, they could face up to two years in prison.
Charges against another doctor, José Luis Merino Batres, were dismissed this week for health reasons. According to his lawyer, 72-year-old Batres is suffering from Alzheimer’s at “a light and/or moderate level”. In his declaration to the magistrate overseeing the case, former haematologist Batres said his role in the blood doping ring was simply to take blood from riders, which was then sent away by Fuentes for analysis. Batres also stored blood bags in his laboratory that analysis later showed contained banned substances.
The Guardia Civil described the Madrid clinic as “the centre of operations for illegal practices”, which were designed to boost the performance of dozens of athletes including Basso and Jan Ullrich, the two favourites for the 2006 Tour crown.
Contador, who was on the Liberty Seguros team in 2006, was set to speak via video link in defence of his former team boss Saiz on February 15. However, the Spaniard will be racing in Oman at that point. Consequently, he is now set to give evidence on February 5. Basso, who was banned for two years in 2007 for “attempted doping” as a result of information that came out of the Puerto investigation, is due to give his evidence via video link on February 11 from the parador hotel on Mt Teide in Tenerife, where he has a training camp.
Jaksche, who rode for ONCE and Liberty Seguros, is also set to give evidence on February 11. During the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, Jaksche said that there had been “organized” doping at ONCE when he rode there between 2001 and 2003. He also alleged that Manolo Saiz had sent him to see Eufemiano Fuentes with a view to improving his performance.
Jaksche, who admitted he was the rider codenamed “Bella” in documents found in Fuentes’ properties in Madrid, said in the appendices of USADA’s Reasoned Decision on Armstrong that Saiz “had made it clear that you had to obey the doctors when they prescribed a substance for a rider”. He also stated: “Doping at ONCE between 2001 and 2003 was organized by Dr Pedro Celaya, who had previously worked as a doctor at US Postal and more recently has worked for RadioShack. Dr Celaya didn’t used to tell me what drugs he was going to give me.” Jaksche admitted that he had been given “EPO, growth hormone and corticosteroids with false prescriptions.”
Jaksche also described how, during 2005 and 2006, Fuentes and his associates had given him EPO, steroids, growth hormone and insulin as well as carrying out blood transfusions.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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