The International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has rejected Alejandro Valverde’s challenge to his two-year suspension from competition in Italy.
Valverde, who finished second in last week’s edition of Paris-Nice, may also have that suspension imposed globally if the UCI opts to pursue the case.
In May of last year, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) imposed a two-year ban on the Spanish rider, barring him from competing on Italian soil until May of 2011. As a result, Valverde was forced to skip last year’s Tour de France, which briefly crossed Italian territory on the 16th stage. Valverde then went on to win the Vuelta a España in September.
CONI investigators had acquired blood samples seized as part of the ongoing Operación Puerto case in Spain and were able to compare DNA to another sample Valverde submitted to Italian anti-doping officials when the Tour visited Italy in 2008.
An analysis conducted on the blood seized in the Puerto case not only matched Valverde’s later sample, but also contained evidence of EPO use. As a result, the Italian panel imposed a two-year ban on the Spanish rider.
That suspension, however, has not translated into a world-wide ban. By upholding the Italian suspension, it’s assumed that Valverde will likely face a worldwide ban. The UCI already tried in vain to keep Valverde out of the 2007 worlds based on alleged Puerto links, but CAS ruled then to allow Valverde to compete.
In this latest appeal, the three-member CAS panel ruled that CONI had jurisdiction to impose the suspension and concluded that evidence presented in the case was not only admissible but also relevant and could reasonably lead to a two-year suspension.
In a release issued by the UCI, the international governing body noted that it intends to extend Valverde’s Italian suspension to the rest of the world.
“The UCI welcomes the decision of the CAS, which confirms the conclusions the UCI reached after conducting a thorough review of the documents relating to the Puerto case, and of Alejandro Valverde’s involvement in it,” the UCI statement noted. “Consequently, after careful study of the grounds of the CAS decision, the UCI expresses its determination to take the necessary measures to secure a suspension that is applicable internationally.”
Meanwhile, Valverde didn’t appear willing to accept the decision without a fight. In a statement posted to his website following the CAS ruling, Valverde’s attorneys said they plan to appeal the CAS decision in a Swiss federal court, accusing at least one of the three CAS panelists of being inherently “biased,” since had once worked for the World-Anti-Doping Agency.
The attorneys also pointed to a ruling last year by the Madrid High Court, which declared CONI’s procedure legally invalid as it said the committee, which is part of Italy’s culture ministry, had no right to demand the seized blood samples from Spain.
The 29-year-old Valverde said that no matter what the outcome of his legal battle, he plans to continue his career, even if he is ultimately suspended.
“I will return to cycling and I will continue to win,” he said in an interview with Spain’s El Pais newspaper on Monday.
Agence France Presse contributed to this story