UCI questions value of teams hiring riders under suspension cloud

Teams assume risk by signing racers still under investigation for Operaciòn Puerto

By Shane Stokes

UCI President Pat McQuaid has questioned the possible return of riders such as Tyler Hamilton to the professional ranks, reminding teams that riders still under investigation could yet find themselves unable to race due to possible further suspensions.

The emerging Italian Continental Pro team, Tinkoff, confirmed the signing of controversial German sprinter Danilo Hondo on September 26 (see First Edition Cycling News for September 27, 2006), and signed a one year deal with manager Omar Piscina. Hondo's Lamonta teammate Steffen Weigold and under 23 TT silver medallist Mikhail Ignatiev will also be part of the squad, which is backed by Russian millionaire and cycling fanatic Oleg Tinkov.

It has been suggested that the American, Tyler Hamilton, may have signed a deal to race for the new Tinkoff squad, marking his return to the sport after serving a two year ban for blood doping. However, McQuaid said this rider was still under investigation and could yet find himself facing a life ban.

Although a freeze on Operación Puerto-related sporting sanctions ordered by the Spanish justice system means that a judgment against Hamilton by USADA is not likely in the short term, McQuaid remains unconvinced that such a signing is a worthwhile investment. "If a team coming into the peloton wants to make progress, why do they go with 35-year-old riders who are past their best?" the Irishman told Cyclingnews on Friday. "I believe there is nothing to be gained from signing people like Tyler Hamilton at this time. Teams should be looking to the future, and not to the past.

"The team also has to bear in mind that he is currently implicated in Operación Puerto and it is far from finished. The UCI will continue with that investigation until such time as it is completed. That applies to Tyler Hamilton and indeed to all the riders involved in it.

"At the moment, (Hamilton's) case is in front of USADA but his papers are in the same situation as the Spanish riders, Ullrich, and everybody else; everything unfortunately on hold due to the recent decision of the judge."

Hamilton was given a two-year ban after positive tests for homologous blood doping in the Athens Olympics and the 2004 Vuelta à España. Problems with the B sample meant that he retained his Olympic TT title, but the finding from the Spanish race was confirmed, and he was excluded from the sport for 24 months. That ban ended just before the world road race championships, a race he was targeting, but the US cycling federation did not select him for the event.

Although he has completed that suspension, documents uncovered during the Operación Puerto investigation appear to have implicated Hamilton and he is facing a life ban from the sport if found guilty.

McQuaid clarified the UCI's position; "The American Federation currently has the file on Hamilton and they may be looking at it, but it certainly hasn't been shelved by any means. Basically, that means that he can't sign with a ProTour team because those squads go by the Code of Conduct. The rules are that any rider implicated in an investigation does not compete [with a ProTour team]."

McQuaid does admit that a Continental Professional team or a Continental team could sign a rider implicated in Operación Puerto. "But in doing so, they need to bear in mind that this investigation will ultimately come to conclusion and if they sign a rider who ultimately is sanctioned, well then what are they doing? Also, what sort of message is this giving to the rest of cycling?"

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'

April 2, 2009 - Valverde indignant over possible suspension
April 1, 2009
- Valverde: Italy requests two-year suspension
March 13, 2009 - Le Monde newspaper hit with fine over Puerto allegations
March 2, 2009 - WADA president Fahey asks for Puerto evidence
February 24, 2009 - Spanish federation seeks access to Puerto blood bags
February 20, 2009 - CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict
February 19, 2009 - Valverde under criminal investigation
February 11, 2009 - Valverde summonsed for Operación Puerto in Italy
February 8, 2009 - Eight charged in Operación Puerto

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of Operación Puerto

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