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Valverde free to race until end of 2009 season

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) (Image credit: Sirotti)

Current Vuelta a España race leader Alejandro Valverde may be the subject of a UCI and WADA action trying to enforce a worldwide ban, but the Spaniard will almost certainly be able to contest this year's world championships and finish out the 2009 season.

On May 11th the Italian anti-doping agency banned the Caisse d'Epargne rider from competing on Italian soil for two years. The ruling followed on from a reported matching by CONI [the Italian Olympic Committee] of Valverde's DNA to blood bags seized during the Operación Puerto raids.

The UCI and WADA then sought to convert this to a worldwide ban, applying to the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) prior to the start of the Tour de France. Despite the fact that this action was lodged in June, CAS told Cyclingnews recently that it is going to take more time before a decision is reached.

"Following the decision of the RFEC [Spanish cycling federation] not to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Alejandro Valverde, UCI and WADA each filed an appeal in order to demonstrate that there was enough evidence for RFEC to initiate disciplinary proceedings," said CAS Secretary General Matthieu Reeb recently. "For this procedure, there will probably not be a decision before the end of the 2009 season."

A slightly quicker resolution is expected in a second appeal, that lodged by Valverde to annul the CONI decision to ban him in their jurisdiction. "At the moment, Alejandro Valverde is prevented from competing in Italy but he remains free to compete outside Italy, unless there is a decision to extend his ban worldwide," he continued.

"For this Valverde/CONI procedure, the calendar is not known yet but the goal is to have a decision around mid-October, before the Giro di Lombardia."

Whether or not that latter appeal is successful, it appears there will be nothing impeding to his competing elsewhere until such time as the second appeal, that lodged by UCI/WADA, is finalised.

"The UCI/WADA appeal against the decision of RFEC not to proceed against Vaverde is still outstanding with CAS, as is the Valverde appeal against the CONI decision," said UCI President Pat McQuaid recently. "Until those processes are concluded, Valverde is free to race."

A WADA spokesman also confirmed that there was nothing they could do to accelerate the hearings. "The process is in the hands of the Tribunal and they set the dates," said Communications Director Julie Masse. "Unfortunately, there is not much that WADA can do at this juncture to speed up the process."

Valverde missed this year's Tour de France when the Caisse d'Epargne team withdrew him from their lineup for the race. Tour organisers ASO had told the team he was not welcome due to the potential controversy if he won but, as Cyclingnews reported at the time, he might have gained permission to race via CAS. This option was not taken, heightening speculation that the team sponsors, a French bank, could have been put under pressure to leave him at home.

He competed elsewhere during the Tour, finishing second overall in the Vuelta a la Communidad de Madrid in July, then went on to win the Vuelta a Burgos in early August.

Should Valverde win the Vuelta or the Worlds, his victory would undoubtedly be of embarrassment to the UCI, given their decision to try to impose a two year ban. The governing body already tried to exclude him from the 2007 world championships in Stuttgart, but CAS ruled at that point that he was eligible to compete.

Since then other evidence has emerged, including the blood analysis done by CONI. That led to their ruling to block him from competing in Italy, Valverde's appeal against that decision, and then the UCI/WADA action against the Spanish Federation for refusing to examine the case for a worldwide ban.

Reeb stated that the outcome of one ruling might not have implications for the other. "One ruling would not necessarily affect the other, because the evidence used by the Italian authorities might not be the same as that used by UCI and WADA. In other words, there will be a need for the CAS to separately assess the evidence submitted in each case."