The World Anti-Doping Agency’s lead attorney said Wednesday the agency is close to putting an end to Alejandro Valverde’s winning streak by handing the Spanish cycling champion a two-year ban.
WADA attorney Olivier Niggli conceded, however, that the anti-doping agency has been left frustrated with the Spaniard, who continues to race, and win, despite evidence linking him to Spain’s Operación Puerto doping scandal which first came to light in 2006.
Valverde, the recent winner of the Tour of Romandie in Switzerland and one of the most feared racers in hilly one-day classics and one-week stage races, has been banned from racing in Italy since May 2009.
The Italian authorities took a blood sample from the Spaniard at the 2008 Tour de France when it passed through the country, and it matched one of the blood bags containing the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) from the 2006 Puerto raid.
Amid the Spanish authorities’ refusal to hand over evidence which could incriminate Valverde, the UCI has been left frustrated in its attempt to have that ban extended worldwide.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport gave the UCI hope with a first decision in March 2010 which effectively rubber-stamped Valverde’s ban in Italy. A second ─ which could lead to a worldwide ban ─ is expected from CAS in the coming days.
Niggli fears that any sanction, however, will be backdated to May 2009, meaning a return for Valverde in 2011.
“This is the biggest risk we face in this affair,” said Niggli, WADA’s legal director. “This affair is frustrating. It’s really unbearable to see Valverde winning the Tour de Romandie while he has been banned (in Italy).
“We have a decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport which has confirmed it is his blood, that it contained EPO, and confirms that Valverde is a cheat. And, despite all this, he continues to compete.
“But we are following this case very closely in respect of all the procedures and we’re waiting to act.”
And after years of “frustrating” legal wrangles that has cost WADA an estimated half a million dollars, it appears CAS could finally force Valverde off his bike.
However Niggli fears the Spaniard could still emerge a winner.
“Without being prejudiced he will probably end up being suspended but in the meantime he continues to benefit financially (from the sport). And all this money will never be repaid.”