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Analysis: How Spain became center of operations in Armstrong’s doping ring

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Oct. 16, 2012
  • Updated 2 hours ago
French headlines have recently vilified Lance Armstrong, who had numerous run-ins with the French press and doping authorities. Photo: Franck Fife | AFP

Armstrong’s legacy in Spain

Spain remained an integral part of the Armstrong story for more than a decade and many of the same characters are still in play. Bruyneel no longer lives in Spain, but many of the former Spanish U.S. Postal contingent remain active in cycling.

Celaya was employed as a team doctor by RadioShack this season until news of his involvement in the USADA investigation was made public this summer. He is challenging USADA’s call for a lifetime ban and is awaiting arbitration.

After leaving U.S. Postal Service in 2003, Del Moral focused on the sports clinic he founded called Performa SportConsulting, based in Valencia, Spain.

Matt White, the Aussie sport director at Orica-GreenEdge, admitted last week that he doped during his years at U.S. Postal Service. Vaughters fired White in 2011 after White, then working as a sport director for Garmin, told former Garmin rider Trent Lowe to visit Del Moral for a health checkup to help determine why Lowe was performing poorly.

That breached Garmin’s strict team rules restricting riders to consulting with authorized doctors and Vaughters, who intimately knew of Del Moral’s toxic legacy, quickly dispatched the popular White.

Martí remains more elusive. He was allegedly employed by a team in 2012, but USADA did not reveal its name. When USADA sent out its initial finding in August, Martí’s mailing address was listed as the UCI headquarters. UCI officials did not answer queries from VeloNews about Martí’s current employer.

Martí also had close ties to Alberto Contador, but so far the Spanish superstar has remained mum on links to the now too-hot Martí.

Whether Spain remains an oasis for doping is hard to say.

In the wake of the disastrous Operación Puerto scandal — which implicated dozens of pros across the peloton — the Spanish government enacted a tough anti-doping law. The law gives police and investigators sweeping powers to go after doping rings and has made the use of doping products a federal crime that can result in hefty fines and even jail time.

So far, however, courts have been slow to act. A high-profile case involving Spanish track and field athletes, when Fuentes’ name showed up yet again, was unceremoniously dropped by Spanish courts this summer and many of the implicated athletes competed in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

And Spanish justice is notoriously slow to act. After several failed efforts to close the Puerto case, a Spanish judge is finally scheduled to hear the case in February, nearly seven years after the initial raids.

In the early 2000s, as Bruyneel and Armstrong gained control of the team, several Spanish riders became key members of the squad, replacing American riders with less European experience. Though USADA apparently did not interview any former Spanish teammates during its investigation, many were Armstrong’s most loyal sidekicks during his career.

There was a strong Spanish accent within the team, with riders such as José Luís “Chechu” Rubiera, Roberto Heras, Manuel Beltrán, Benjamín Noval and later Haimar Zubeldia and even Contador.

So far, none have spoken out against Armstrong and those queried by VeloNews have refused to comment.

Obviously, south of the Pyrénées, the rule of omerta is still respected.

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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