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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.”

Andy Rihs, Swiss owner of cycling, soccer teams, dies at 75

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Andy Rihs, a Swiss businessman who owned the BMC Racing cycling team and Young Boys soccer club, has died. He was 75.

Rihs died Wednesday in Zurich after “a patient and valiantly endured illness,” the BMC team said Thursday in a statement.

“Our grief is indescribable, but we will carry on his values,” the team said, praising Rihs for his “generosity, his sense of humor, and his infectious laugh.”

Rihs’s death comes with Young Boys close to winning its first Swiss league title in 32 years. Young Boys leads by 11 points with six matches left.

“Andy, thank you for everything. We will miss you,” Young Boys said in a statement.

Rihs’s brother, Hans-Ueli, is also an owner of the club and Stade de Suisse in Bern, known locally as Wankdorf. The stadium staged the 1954 World Cup final.

As BMC owner, Rihs secured a Tour de France title five years after his previous team was involved in a doping scandal. Cadel Evans of Australia wore BMC’s black and red colors to victory in the 2011 Tour.

In 2006, the Rihs-backed Phonak team disbanded after American rider Floyd Landis was stripped of the Tour title.

Cycling’s top riders set for Tour of California next month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The top men’s and women’s teams will compete next month in the Amgen Tour of California, the premier U.S. cycling race.

The men will cover 645 miles over seven stages from Long Beach to Sacramento from May 13 to May 19. The women will have three of the top five teams for their three-day, 187-mile race that starts May 17 in Elk Grove.

Race owner AEG announced Thursday that Pete Sagan will ride for the BORA-hansgrohe team while Mark Cavendish will go for Team Dimension Data and be joined by Rafal Majka.

Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale is in the men’s field. So is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nielson Powless, the race’s best young rider in 2016.

The women feature 2016 champion Megan Guarnier of USA Cycling National Team, Katie Hall of UnitedHealthcare and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon/SCRAM.