MADRID (VN) — The Spanish Supreme Court has rejected an appeal in the long-running civil court battle dating back to the 2005 Vuelta a España and “awarded” the title back to Roberto Heras.
Heras tested positive for EPO in the final time trial stage and was stripped of the 2005 Vuelta crown. Rather than challenge the case through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Heras decided to challenge the case in Spanish civil court.
In 2011, a provincial court agreed with Heras. The Spanish cycling federation and the Spanish sports federation appealed the case to the Supreme Court. On Friday, the court said the appeal had no merit.
The unconventional tactic seems to have paid off. Heras might now be able to reclaim his 2005 Vuelta crown. The Spanish rider, who was later implicated in the Operación Puerto doping ring, served a two-year ban and never raced on the road again.
“I never lost the feeling that I was the winner of the 2005 Vuelta,” Heras said in a statement released Friday. “I receive this news with happiness. … This is a decision that’s very important for me and it means I can recover the 2005 Vuelta. I am going to celebrate.”
The case dates back seven years and underscores just how slow Spanish justice can be. Operación Puerto, which dates back to 2006, will finally make it to a Spanish court sometime in early 2013.
A former Lance Armstrong teammate who joined Manolo Saíz’s Liberty Seguros team in 2004, Heras tested positive after finishing second in the final TT at the 2005 Vuelta.
It was a surprising result for the climbing specialist, and one that assured him the overall title, a record fourth Vuelta crown.
Twenty days later, however, samples came back positive for EPO.
Heras denied the allegations and decided to challenge the case in civil court rather than take it to arbitration before CAS.
This is the first time a cyclist has won a civil-court challenge outside the reach of CAS. Armstrong, in a final-hour attempt to circumvent the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last fall, raised a legal challenge in U.S. civil court. A judge shot down his argument, bolstering the legitimacy of USADA and the existing appeal system with CAS as its final arbitrator.
The Spanish court did not address those questions directly. Instead, the case was founded on mistakes allegedly made during the handling of Heras’s samples.
According to court documents, several procedures were violated. The sample was stored at room temperature, for example, rather than being chilled. Other errors included that the same person conducted both the A and B samples, and that Heras’s identity was known to testers, all clear violations of testing protocol.
The news comes just as the same Madrid lab was slapped with a three-month sanction after mixing up urine samples between athletes.
The court ruled against these breaches of protocol, but never denied that Heras tested positive.
So what happens next?
There was no immediate reaction from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), CAS or the UCI.
Vuelta officials said they would wait to hear from the appropriate authorities before taking action.
“We will wait official word and once that happens, we will once again put his name as winner of the 2005 Vuelta,” Vuelta director Javier Guillen told AS.
“We will respect what the court says because that’s what we have to do. It wasn’t us who took away the victory from Roberto Heras.”