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Spain court orders Operation Puerto blood bags released

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MADRID — A Spanish court ruled Tuesday that blood bags that are key evidence in one of Spain’s worst doping scandals should be handed over to authorities for investigation.

The Madrid Provincial Court said bags containing blood samples and plasma should be handed over to the Spanish Cycling Federation, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Cycling Union and Italy’s Olympic Committee.

The announcement came 10 years after Operation Puerto revealed a doping network involving some of the world’s top cyclists when police seized coded blood bags from the Madrid clinic of sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

The decision backed an appeal by lawyers for prosecuting parties against a 2013 court ruling that the bags should be destroyed for privacy reasons.

The court said Thursday’s ruling “took into account that the goal is to fight against doping, which goes against sport’s ethical values.”

Not ordering the bags to be made available would have “generalized the danger of other sports people being tempted to dope themselves and sent a negative social message that the end justifies the means,” the court said.

The 2013 order to destroy the blood bags outraged the sports community. Spain’s anti-doping agency, the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency were among the entities that appealed.

It was not immediately clear how WADA’s statute of limitations would apply in the case. An eight-year statute was in place in 2006 when the scandal first broke, and the period was recently extended to 10 years.

“WADA is very pleased with the decision of the court to release the blood bags,” WADA President Craig Reedie told The Associated Press. “We will now be speaking to the other parties who appealed in the case to decide how to proceed. We have to see what the implications are regarding the statute of limitations.”

More than 50 cyclists were originally linked to the case. Among those eventually suspended were former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, Spanish Vuelta champion Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Basso, who later confirmed that his blood was among the frozen samples found.

Fuentes said during a 2013 trial that he also worked with athletes from other sports, but the judge back then said he didn’t have to name anyone who was not implicated in the cycling case.

Speculation has been rife that the release of the bags, which were being kept at a lab in Barcelona, could stir up another scandal if identities of new athletes are revealed.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the court also absolved Fuentes and a former cycling team director who were given suspended sentences in the 2013 trial for endangering public health. The court said the blood samples could not be considered medication.

Spanish athletes and officials also complained that the lack of closure on the case has further damaged the country’s image in the fighting doping.

“Operation Puerto caused horror to our sport and to the image of the country,” Spanish Olympic committee chief Alejandro Blanco said recently. “We’ve been dealing with this for 10 years, and it feels like it could be other 20.”

WADA this year declared Spain “non-compliant” with it global code because it failed to make required law changes on doping. The country was not able to form a government following elections last year, so parliament has not been able to update the country’s anti-doping legislation to match the revised WADA regulations.

WADA followed this up by this month by suspending the accreditation of the Madrid drug-testing lab.

Spain faces fresh elections June 26 but the signs are a new government may not be formed for several months.

Spanish anti-doping agency director Enrique Gomez Bastida welcomed the court ruling after meeting with the country’s top government sports official, Miguel Cardenal.

“We express satisfaction with the decision,” he said. “We are examining it thoroughly in order to evaluate possible joint future actions with the anti-doping organizations involved in the judicial process.”

Quintana keeps lead but Dumoulin remains pick to win Giro

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ASIAGO, Italy — Nairo Quintana held on to the pink jersey in the penultimate stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday but likely didn’t pick up enough seconds on his most dangerous rival, Tom Dumoulin, to claim overall victory.

Thibaut Pinot of France won the 20th stage in a sprint finish ahead of Ilnur Zakarin of Russia and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali.

Entering Sunday’s concluding time trial, Quintana leads Nibali by 39 seconds with Pinot third, 43 seconds back.

Dumoulin dropped from second to fourth, 53 seconds back, although he still remains the favorite considering his time trialing skills.

The 100th Giro ends on Sunday with a flat 29.3-kilometer (18-mile) individual time trial from Monza’s Formula One race track to Milan.

Dumoulin already dominated the race’s first time trial in Stage 10.

Quintana reclaims pink jersey with 2 stages to go in Giro

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PIANCAVALLO, Italy — Nairo Quintana reclaimed the pink jersey from Tom Dumoulin with two stages to go in the Giro d’Italia on Friday, setting up what could be a tense finale in Milan on Sunday.

Dumoulin couldn’t keep up with his main rivals in the final uphill finish of the three-week race and trails Quintana, the 2014 winner from Colombia, by 38 seconds.

Two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali is third overall, 43 seconds behind Quintana.

With Thibaut Pinot of France fourth overall, 53 seconds back, the top four are grouped within less than a minute.

“It’s pretty complicated. We have to adapt the strategy day-by-day,” Quintana said.

Spanish rider Mikel Landa won the 19th stage in a breakaway, finally tasting victory after two second-place finishes and one third-place result.

Landa required nearly five hours to complete the 191-kilometer (119-mile) route from San Candido to Piancavallo. He finished nearly two minutes ahead of Rui Costa, with Stage 17 winner Pierre Rolland crossing third.

On Thursday, Dumoulin criticized the tactics of Quintana and Nibali, saying they were merely racing to make him lose – remarks that earned a sharp rebuke from Nibali.

Before Friday’s stage, Dumoulin apologized to Nibali and the pair shook hands.

If anything, Dumoulin’s comments appeared to have motivated Quintana and Nibali, who temporarily dropped Dumoulin on a downhill section midway through Friday’s stage.

While the Dutchman caught up on the ensuing Sella Chianzutan climb, he didn’t have the legs to keep up on the 15.4-kilometer climb to Piancavallo, which began at an average gradient of nearly 10 percent.

“I had bad legs from the start and I made a rookie mistake at the beginning, sitting at the back of the bunch on the downhill,” Dumoulin said.

“In the final I tried to limit my losses and I did that very well. My team saved me a couple of times, so I have to thank them. Otherwise it would have been a much worse day. Bad legs today, but I hope they’ll be better tomorrow.”

Quintana wore pink for one day after winning Stage 9. Dumoulin then took control by dominating a time trial in Stage 10 and had led ever since.

Quintana has also finished on the Tour de France podium three times.

The penultimate stage on Saturday is the last mountainous leg, a 190-kilometer (118-mile) route from Pordenone to Asiago featuring two first-category climbs – a long 24-kilometer ascent to Monte Grappa and a shorter but steeper 14-kilometer rise to Foza.

The 100th Giro ends on Sunday with an individual time trial from Monza to Milan.

“Tomorrow there will be another important stage and then I’ll give it all in the time trial,” Quintana said.