The case of Alejandro Valverde, who has continued to race for nearly four years since first being pursued by anti-doping authorities over the Operación Puerto doping affair, could soon be at an end.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is due to rule this month on the appeal by the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) to force the Spanish Cycling Federation to open disciplinary proceedings against Valverde.
The Spaniard was banned for two years in Italy starting last year after the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) was able to procure blood evidence from Operación Puerto from the Spanish courts. They then matched the evidence to blood samples acquired from Valverde as part of doping controls during the 2008 Tour de France.
DNA tests matched Valverde to bags of blood containing the banned blood booster EPO, and this evidence formed the basis of Italy's ban. An appeal by Valverde to the CAS was rejected, opening up the possibility that he will be suspended from racing world-wide.
"We have a decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirming that it is his blood, that it contained EPO, and confirms that Valverde is a cheater. And, despite all this, he is still racing," said Olivier Niggli, WADA's legal director, to AFP.
However, even if the anti-doping agencies win the CAS decision and Spain is forced to ban Valverde, he could be back to racing as early as 2011 if the sanction mirrors the two-year sentence which began in Italy in May, 2009.
"This is the biggest risk we face in this case," said Niggli. "This case is frustrating. It's really unbearable to see Valverde winning the Tour de Romandie while he has been banned."
The UCI and WADA are pushing to make Valverde's global ban, should it be enacted, begin on the date of the CAS decision and not the same start date as his Italian ban. But if they get their way, Valverde could get to keep all of the results he has accumulated to this point, which includes the Tour of Romandie this year as well as a podium finish in Liège - Bastogne - Liège, a second place in Paris-Nice, the Tour Méditerranéen win as well as his 2009 victory in the Tour of Spain, Vuelta a Burgos and Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.
"Without prejudging the outcome, it will probably end up being suspended, but meanwhile he has garnered years of profit. And all that money will never be recovered," said Niggli.