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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.”

Brazilian cycling team faces 2nd ban for persistent doping

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AIGLE, Switzerland (AP) Brazilian team Soul Brasil Pro Cycling faces another ban from racing after two more riders were implicated in doping.

The International Cycling Union says the team will be judged by its disciplinary panel which can impose bans of up to one year.

Cycling rules allow teams to be suspended if two riders are caught doping in a one-year period.

In December, the team’s riders were suspended for 55 days after three cases involving the banned blood booster CERA since July. They included Kleber Ramos of Brazil, who competed in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic road race.

The UCI says the latest cases involve biological passport results for Alex Correia Diniz, who is provisionally suspended, and an allegation against Otavio Bulgarelli of tampering with a doping sample.

Van Avermaet wins Gent-Wevelgem for two victories in three days

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GENT, Belgium (AP) Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet won his second race in three days Sunday, beating fellow Belgian Jens Keukeleire in a two-man sprint finish to take the Gent-Wevelgem classic.

World champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won last year’s race, finished third.

The 249-kilometer (154.7-mile) race through Belgium included two ascents of the steep, cobbled Kemmelberg hill, one of the iconic climbs of the spring classics season.

Last year’s race was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitie after a fall.

Sagan fell Friday in the E3 Harelbeke, which Van Avermaet also won to add to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad.