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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.”

Ferdy Kuebler, 1950 Tour de France champion, dies at 97

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LONDON — Ferdy Kuebler, who came back from injury and the interruption of World War II to win the 1950 Tour de France, has died. He was 97.

The Swiss won an epic battle with French rider Louison Bobet in the 1950 race, and became world champion the following year.

Andre Haefliger, the chief reporter at Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, said from Kuebler’s home in Switzerland on Friday that he could confirm the death on behalf of Kuebler’s widow, Christina. Kuebler died Thursday at a Zurich hospital. He had been suffering from a cold.

Switzerland’s national cycling association, Swiss Cycling, paid tribute to Kuebler and offered its condolences to his family. “We are taking leave of one of the greatest cycling legends of our time,” it wrote on its website.

For many, his biggest achievement was winning the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, then held on successive days, in both 1951 and 1952.

In an era of marathon races on poor roads, Kuebler also won the 1953 Bordeaux-to-Paris after 570 kilometers (356 miles) and more than 14 hours in the saddle.

Born July 24, 1919, into a poverty-stricken family near Zurich, Kuebler knew as a child that he wanted to be a professional cyclist.

Forced as a teenager to find work to support his family, he got a job delivering bread by bicycle.

“I had to climb the mountain up to four times a day. That was how I trained for my career. I told myself: one day you will be a cyclist,” Kuebler said in a 2003 television documentary.

Later, as a Zurich office worker, Kuebler cycled the 100-kilometer (63-mile) round trip from home.

World War II broke out as he was starting to make his name as a cyclist. Kuebler was drafted into the Swiss army.

“I lost five or six of my best years,” he said.

An accident in 1946 that hospitalized him for two months almost ended his postwar career.

He came back in 1947 and started his first Tour, aged 28. He won the first stage, becoming the first post-war wearer of the famed yellow jersey.

In 1950, third-placed Kuebler took over the race lead when Italy’s team of riders withdrew, accusing spectators of assaulting them.

He finished the 4,773 kilometers (2,983 miles) 9 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Stan Ockers, with Bobet third.

Kuebler chose not to race another Tour until 1954. He finished second, behind Bobet.

After retiring at age 38, Kuebler trained as a ski instructor and worked on the Swiss slopes for 25 winters. In summer he did publicity for the Tour de Suisse and traveled with the race as an official for 35 years.

Kuebler said there was never any other career for him except cycling.

“I always said if I came back to earth – which I hope will happen – I would be a cyclist again,” he said.

New Zealanders join Lance Armstrong in early morning ride

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Several hundred cyclists turned out Tuesday for an early morning ride with Lance Armstrong, who is in New Zealand to film a commercial for a local brewery.

Armstrong issued an invitation by social media to join him cycling around Auckland’s waterfront and a crowd estimated at up to 1,000 turned out.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from cycling in 2013 after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

Armstrong told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that he was glad to know he still has some support.

New Zealand’s Lion Breweries has confirmed it brought the 45-year-old Texan to New Zealand. In an internal staff email, the brewer said “we are using Lance to tell a cautionary tale called `The Consequence’, which depicts how much you stand to lose when you pursue success at all costs.”

“We wanted to highlight that actions have consequences and we couldn’t think of anyone better to demonstrate that than Lance,” the email said.

Armstrong arrived in Auckland on Sunday from Houston, telling reporters he is in New Zealand on business but has bought his bike and golf clubs.

He took part in a ride later that day with a small group including New Zealand Ironman triathlon champion Cameron Brown.