The Other Shoe

The other shoe has finally dropped. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has, finally, upheld Alejandro Valverde’s Italian suspension, imposed by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), finding that, not only does CONI have jurisdiction to impose the ban on the Spanish rider for races taking place in Italy, but further, that the evidence used by CONI to ban Valverde, may well be enough to expand the ban worldwide. The origin of the ban is a connection made between a bag of blood seized by Spanish police as part of the Operación Puerto investigation and a sample given for an Italian race, confirming, according to CONI, that Valverde participated in the doping program run by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes AND that traces of EPO could be connected to Valverde’s DNA.

This decision alters the pro cycling landscape in a number of curious ways. First, it calls into question Valverde’s results from 2006, and the beginning of the Operación Puero scandal, up to his second place finish in the just completed Paris-Nice race. If, and this is a great big if, the UCI chooses to vacate Valverde’s results, then Samuel Sanchez suddenly becomes the winner of the 2009 Vuelta a España and Ivan Basso, himself a Puerto alum, climbs up onto the podium. Should the UCI back out all those results, the peloton will be full of new winners.

Beyond the rider’s individual results, the CAS decision demonstrates several things: First, the wheels of justice turn very, very, very, very slowly in cycling. We are years from the Puerto revelations, and though this process was slowed considerably by complications with the Spanish justice system, the fact remains that the national organizations overseeing the anti-doping efforts in Europe are NOT all together on procedures and protocols.

Second, it shouldn’t escape our notice that the Spanish police were actually the instigators of this entire episode, raiding Fuentes’ lab on a pretext not related to blood doping, which was not illegal in Spain at the time. Alejandro Valverde has never tested positive for banned substances in an in-competition screening. If it’s true that the Caisse d’Epargne rider made a practice of doping, then the testing the UCI is doing has not been effective in catching him, despite a string of wins that saw him end 2009 as the top-ranked pro rider.

Third, Caisse d’Epargne has already planned to end their sponsorship of the cycling team at the end of the 2010 season. If it’s most salable asset is banned from competition for two years, finding a new sponsor for a team that contains a wealth of Spanish cycling talent might be even more difficult. in light of recent sponsorship withdrawals by entities like Saxo Bank and Milram (though this is still up in the air) Valverde’s ongoing troubles signal yet another major blow against the sport in public perception.

Insiders will tell you that cycling is the most transparent sport, due to the high level of testing and prosecution of doped athletes. Outsiders will see just another big name rider convicted of cheating.

Now that CAS has exhausted Valverde’s appeals, we can look forward to the slowly unfolding drama of the UCI moving to expand the Italian ban to worldwide competition with the rider rushing around Europe trying to squeeze in as many races as possible before the hammer falls.

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  1. grolby

    1. If Valverde is guilty, this is good news. Too bad doping enforcement is such a mess. The problem is that we want some inherently contradictory things: swift action on dopers, in terms of both test results and subsequent penalties, and a fair and just system of enforcement to prevent the mistaken punishment and destruction of reputation for innocent riders.

    2. That photo is hysterical.

  2. SinglespeedJarv

    Woah there, he’s not finished yet, we’re off to the Swiss courts next. CAS are not neutral…when will this end, what happens if the Swiss appeal fails, will he take the Hamilton approach and start claiming extreme medical miracles or will he appeal to God, who is a higher authority than he Swiss? Will Obama be involved?

    When will Piti understand that he isn’t wanted anymore, except he isn’t. He hasn’t been ostracised like Ricco, yet you could argue that he has done more to discredit the sport and if his wins are struck from the record it will make a mockerey of the last four years. So why isn’t he hated inside a “clean” peloton, why hasn’t he been marginalised like Ricco?

    I can understand what he is doing and he’ll probably continue until someone physically prevents him starting races. Assuming the UCI is to pathetic to do this, what should be done if he is ever prevented from riding? The UCI have already set a precedent with Riis of removing names but not upgrading those who finished behind. I can’t see how they can do anything else, but this is the UCI, we’ll probably find out in about 10years after Piti has exhausted appeal procedures for stopping the UCI taking his name out of results.

    I can’t imagine we’ll get the answers anytime soon, in the meantime I’m preparing to find something else instead of watching Liege-Bastonge-Liege.

  3. Souleur

    There are so many things about this case that evidences a self-inflicted gunshot wound for ‘cycling’…but we seem to like it that way for some reason.

    For one, the timing of this and the ‘justice’ of it is a paradox. I mean, it was a few years ago afterall for Pete sake, and now the ‘terms of justice’ are served?? Its like me as a father discipling my child weeks after they spilled milk, its virtually ineffective and disassociated completely from the insult. That seems to be the case w/Valverde here. My dads best justice was an immediate ass-whipping, it got my attention, and it was distinctly linked to what I just did. Perhaps that explains alot in my warped mind now, but nonetheless.

    And afterall, we are talking about a ‘Tour GC’r’…right. Right..sure. Perhaps I am a skeptic here w/Valverde, but look at his track record in the Tour, fella’s, he is no threat to the podium and he is no GC’r. His best result ON DOPE was 6th in 2007, the year after doc fuentes filled him up…6th! Otherwise he is an annual no-show DNF’r on nearly every other effort in the Tour. Call me a skeptic, but justice in this case may well be let him ride!! Encourage it. Ride on friend, go get’m, let him wear the laurels he earns. Otherwise, holding him out will allow him to be a legend in his own mind and convincing others of what he ‘could have done but was never allowed to’, or it may alow him to fragment the community of cycling to ‘them/us’.

    In terms of another paradox is as you mention, getting international cooperation here. I hope to see that happen, but indeed it will be a first. We will see though, which ever, I am not convinced he is produced as much as everyone wishes or imagines as to me he is a coulda/woulda/shoulda.

    Not to be a ‘spaniard basher’ only though, let me conclude, Contador is admirable as are Flecha, and many of the others are great cyclists.

  4. Alex

    What a mess. Every time something like this happens or comes to the surface, I get the impression that the whole anti-doping effort is a huge headbanging, and it´s going nowhere. Maybe two steps ahead and one backwards, it´s even hard to get a clear picture. Robot brings up an important point IMHO. It must go on untill they can align efforts or perhaps find a more effective way to fight it. Or something.

  5. sophrosune

    Isn’t it still an open question as to how CONI came into possession of the Operacion Puerto evidence? I have not read the decision of CAS, but wasn’t that at the heart of Valverde’s argument? Were there any answers to that in the CAS decision or from CONI?

    Questions of guilt or innocence aside, one gets the distinct impression that no matter what, CAS is always going to come down on the side of the doping authorities whether they be WADA, CONI or UCI.

  6. Author

    @sophrosune I think those are excellent questions and ones I’ve never seen good explanations for. From what I read, CAS found CONI’s presentation of the evidence against Valverde persuasive. This seemed to be an addendum to their basic decision, ruling that CONI was fully within its rights to ban the Green Bullet in Italy.

    That, I think, was all the appeal was about. Jurisdiction.

    How the further commentary about the possible validity of the DNA match CONI alleges to have made between the Valv.Piti blood bag and their own sample for Valverde effects UCI’s case remains to be seen.

    I suppose, if we step back, this CAS ruling, which has been coming for what seems like an eternity, is just another ruling.

    I agree also about CAS coming down, invariably, on the side of WADA, et. al.

    The deck seems stacked, regardless of what Valverde may or may not have done.

  7. SinglespeedJarv

    @sophrosune CONI asked a Spanish judge for the OP evidence. It was just that they did it when Judge Serrano was on hokiday and so wasn’t there to block them. His stand-in posted the details off to Italy post-haste.

    My understanding is the same as Robots, this was a battle about jurisdiction, although only I gleaned my understanding through reading websites and not actual documents.

    As regarding the validity of CONI’s DNA case, I *read* a very convincing article, and I imagine that others on here are aware of the same information, that CONI spent a lot of time planning and executing their case, including requesting the Spanish files and blood-bags when Judge Serrano was on holiday – don’t forget Serrano was pissed when he got back and kicked up a storm. CONI wanted to ensure they had closed all loop-holes, they wanted to make sure Piti had nothing to argue with. This was when there was a suggestion that CONI were after Piti because Brillo was the main fall-guy of OP.

    It’s very ugly and there is no pretty way out of this anymore

  8. Champs

    I’m not an anti-Spaniard. Why, some of my best friends are Spanish!

    In all seriousness, Valverde is:

    1) under a stack of 20 maybes in the grand tours. Not a serious contender, as stated earlier.

    2) Well over halfway through his two year ban in Italy. Will any of that count as time served, i.e. can he race in Italy next February, or will he be banned from the boot for three or four years?

  9. Touriste-Routier

    I don’t believe the CAS appeal process is any more stacked against the defendant than any other legal process. However what is alarming is that WADA doesn’t follow their own rules or protocols, and CAS doesn’t seem to care. If this is the case, what is the point of having an appeals process?

    I find it ironic that an arbitration panel is ruling on rules of evidence, when typically rules of evidence are looser in arbitration than they are in a criminal or civil trial. So what standards are being used?

    This whole Puerto thing was, is, and always will be a mess. The interesting stuff has yet to come, should the UCI implement a globabl ban; will sentences in different countries run concurrently?

  10. Randomactsofcycling

    Look at the faces in the photo…… Who’s laughing at all of us? As long as there are conflicting opinions on this page, let alone at Administrative levels, Valverde will continue to represent the conundrum of all highly paid modern day sports – soooo much money, so little career longevity. These guys need to make hay while the sun shines and they’ll fight for their right to do it. Innocent or guilty, Valverde is the fart in the elevator of cycling. Everyone wants to point the finger at him, but no-one can legally prove it.

  11. Matt Walsh

    This was good news for cycling and yet, is anything really going to happen in the near future? Valverde already has another appeal to Swiss courts planned and the another CAS decision pending. UCI head Patrick DoNothing McQuaid has already announced the continuation of his wait and see what the next court ruling says. Valverde may yet get another season out of his lies and hypocrisy and cycling will continue to suffer that embarrassment.

    1. Padraig

      All: Correct me if I’m wrong, but so far, the Swiss courts have denied every appeal from athletes dissatisfied with their CAS verdict. Regardless, given the fact that they denied the appeals of Hamilton and Landis, among others, I doubt they’ll take Valverde’s case.

  12. sophrosune

    @SinglespeedJarv Thanks for that information. I had not seen that before. It appears that CONI were quite deliberate in their hunting down of Valverde. It makes one question the chain of custody of that evidence, no? I mean if they were so intent on getting their man they may have helped matters along with fudging an analysis here or there.

  13. Alex

    Padraig you have a very good point. Add that to the fact that riders caught doping usually complain of being “guinea pigs and victms of an unfair system”, and it looks to me that all these instances dealing with arbitration of doping cases are indeed grabbing every chance to take punishment to the end. Whenever a rider is caught or involved, or whenever there´s some proof to substantiate the accusation, they´ll take them down. They know for a fact that no one is innocent, and when someone is busted… they´ll burn it! So I agree with you, I´d guess it´ll be the same with Valverde.

    1. Padraig

      What I don’t understand is why athletes continue to file appeals with the Swiss Courts. When I wrote earlier, I don’t think I was quite clear enough: The Swiss Courts haven’t even taken the cases, saying that they believe that CAS is the proper authority to rule on sporting cases. To even appeal to the Swiss Courts, the athletes must be appealing based on a matter of law, not on scientific grounds. They (the Swiss Courts) have made it clear they don’t want to get involved in these cases. I’m surprised that riders would pursue this avenue given it’s even less likely to succeed than dealing with CAS, and that’s saying something.

  14. SinglespeedJarv

    @sophrosune There was a very good article by Lionel Birnie the other day on the Cycling Weekly website, I won’t post a link as I don’t know how the Red Kite boys would feel about that so I’ll “direct” you there instead. It gives an overview of Puerto.
    As for CONI “fudging” evidence, Ettore Torri is probably one of the most stand-up people involved in cycling, he has done a lot to tackle the doping problem in cycling and he’s managed to convict a large numbers of dopers while fighting a massive battle of wills with at various times the Italian Cycling world, the Italian Cycling Federation and the Italian Olympic committee. Compare and contrast with Judge Serrano who has no interest in addressing any of the issues that arose out of OP.

    @Padraig, the EU have no power over Switzerland, so assuming the Swiss stick to their script I guess Piti might try taking it to the UN next. Something about his Human Rights, maybe?

    1. Padraig

      SinglespeedJarv: Post away with the link. We don’t want to stifle the conversation or what anyone knows. Besides, Cycling Weekly does good work.

  15. Robot

    Thanks, Jarvis. Good stuff.

    Interesting bit from the Birnie piece:
    “It has taken the persistence of CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, and the Italian judiciary to get to this point. The Italian authorities used an international accord between police services to obtain access to the blood bags seized in the Operacion Puerto investigation, much to the annoyance of those in Spain who wanted to draw a line under the entire affair.”

  16. Touriste-Routier

    Here I go getting all legal again…

    SinglespeedJarv- The role of a judge is to render opinions based upon the law and the evidence (or decision by a jury). So in this instance Serrano’s “interest” in OP has no bearing. If the reports were correct, doping under Spanish Law was not illegal, so there was nothing for the Spanish Courts to do here, except throw the case out.

    Padraig- It would seem that this instance very well might be a proper matter for the Swiss Appellate Courts to take on, since this isn’t an appeal over a matter of fact, but one of law and procedure, though they are not obligated to hear it. But considering the alleged action is not a crime in Spain, and if the evidence was obtained (and used) illegally by the Italians, then the perhaps CONI did not have grounds for suspension, and thus nor would the UCI have right to extend it to other nations. It might really come down to what agreements exist between the different agencies involved, and if these agreements are in fact legal, in addition to if they have jurisdiction over the defendant.

    While some may think it strange or slimy that Valverde’s appeal was based upon rules of evidence, it was a sound legal defense, as opposed to “I’m innocent, this is not my blood”. We haven’t seen too many rulings in favor of the party that claims “bad science” or “improper handling”, so it was his best shot at prevailing. Furthermore, silence (or lack of denial) is not an admission of guilt. We’ve seen time and again that more athletes should keep their mouths shut, despite what their fans might want to hear.

    This matter is a prime example of the differences between sporting rules and civil/criminal law. The matter is further complicated by having multiple agencies and nations claiming jurisdiction. Don’t be surprised if that in the future, rider’s contracts have clauses which set the venues/jurisdiction (UCI, WADA, CAS) for all hearings which also remove their ability to have cases heard in their courts of their national residence, or under the auspices of their national federation.

    I’ve stated this many times before, until the protocols are unified and followed, until the rules of evidence are obeyed, until proper venues set with an impartial process, the circus will be in town indefinitely.

    1. Padraig

      Touriste-Routier: As always, you raise some very valid and interesting points. I do agree that the issue of jurisdiction is a legitimate one for the Swiss civil courts to address, though it seems they are reluctant to get involved for any reason.

      I’m curious to see what develops with riders’ contracts as well as the riders’ union, which may well be the weakest in all of professional sports.

      And as you so well stated, “the circus will be in town indefinitely.”


  17. SinglespeedJarv

    @Touriste-Routier great to have some legal clarification on this. My comments about Judge Serrano were because although his “interest” had no bearing on the original case under Spanish law, why did he do all he could to block the Italians accessing OP evidence? Yet, if the stories are correct, his stand-in was able to authorise the same request in a matter of days, only for Serrano to become involved when he returned to office. This suggests that Serrano had an “interest” in attempting to stop the Italians mounting a case against Piti which had nothing irrespective of it’s legality.

  18. Touriste-Routier

    Singlespeed Jarv- I guess I partially misinterpreted what you meant by “interest”.

    It is possible that the Spanish judges had personal interests (either way) in seeing how the case progressed via the sporting administrative process, even though their hands were technically tied by Spanish Law; clearly judges as human are not immune from bias.

    As for 1 judge doing 1 thing, and another doing the opposite, law is always open to interpretation, even to those sitting on the bench. This is why the appellate process exists. When doing case research on a subject, you can always find cases that go either way, you just cite the ones that are most favorables.

    In Serrano’s instance, his actions could also be as simple as a matter of a Spanish court officer trying to protect a Spanish citizen from undue prosecution by another nation by use of illegally obtained evidence. Of course, he could also be a Valverde fan…

  19. Touriste-Routier

    Singlespeed Jarv- Sorry, I guess I partially misinterpreted what you meant by “interest”.

    It is possible that the Spanish judges had personal interests (either way) in seeing how the case progressed via the sporting administrative process, even though their hands were technically tied by Spanish Law; clearly judges as human are not immune from bias.

    As for 1 judge doing 1 thing, and another doing the opposite, law is always open to interpretation, even to those sitting on the bench. This is why the appellate process exists. When doing case research on a subject, you can always find cases that go either way, you just cite the ones that are most favorable.

    In Serrano’s instance, his actions could also be as simple as a matter of a Spanish court officer trying to protect a Spanish citizen from undue prosecution by another nation by use of illegally obtained evidence. Of course, he could also be a Valverde fan…

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