LEON, Spain (VN) — Two more Spanish riders — Ángel Vicioso and Marcos Serrano — both distanced themselves from Operación Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes during testimony Friday in the ongoing Puerto trial.
Vicioso, who has been suspended by his Katusha team since Feb. 3, and Serrano, who retired in 2007, said they both stopped working with Fuentes after leaving the Kelme team by the early 2000s.
Vicioso, who testified via videoconference from Lleida, Spain, said he only conferred for “consultations” with Fuentes since 2002. Vicioso confirmed contacts with Fuentes, who was a former Kelme team doctor, from 1999-2002.
“Between 2004 and 2006, I would call Fuentes occasionally for advice,” Vicioso testified. “I asked [Manolo] Saíz if I could contact Fuentes for consultations, not for treatment. He’s a good doctor.”
He also said he would have “no problem” offering DNA samples if the court asked for them, because he claims “there are no blood bags that correspond to me.”
“I never did blood transfusions. I never paid Fuentes, he never gave me medicine or anything else,” Vicioso continued under oath. He did admit to working with Ignacio Labarta, a former Kelme trainer, after switching to ONCE/Liberty Seguros in 2003. “I paid Labarta 5,000 euros a year, which is normal because he was my trainer.”
Vicioso said he did not recognize alleged training and doping schedules found during police raids in 2006 in Fuentes’s offices with the initials “AV” that officials say belonged to Vicioso.
“Yes, those are the races I did, but I had nothing to do with Fuentes,” he continued. “When I was at Liberty, I would only sporadically meet with Fuentes, in a hotel or in a bar. He never treated me.”
Serrano, who also testified via videoconference from Vigo, Spain, said he stopped working with Fuentes in 1999 after leaving Kelme and “only saw him occasionally at races.”
Serrano, who retired in the wake of the Puerto scandal after racing the 2007 season with Karpin-Galicia, said he was not working with Fuentes during the 2006 Giro when he fell gravely ill and spent three days in an Italian hospital and later spent more time in a Spanish hospital upon returning home.
“No one told me it had anything to do with a medicine intoxication. They told me I had a virus,” he testified. “That year the Giro started in Belgium and right from the start, I felt bad, like I had the flu, with pain and fever. I stubbornly wanted to finish all three grand tours and I stayed in the race. I only felt worse and we decided I should go to the hospital.”
When attorneys asked why his wife would send an SMS directly to Fuentes during the Giro to ask about his condition rather than to the team, Serrano answered: “I remembered that Fuentes spoke Italian well and that my wife should contact him to see how I was doing. I continued to get along well with Eufemiano.”
The presiding judge reminded both riders they were testifying under oath and that they could face perjury charges, which might include jail time and fines. Both riders acknowledged the judge and said they were testifying truthfully.
Serrano also said he never underwent blood transfusions with Fuentes and said Fuentes only “extracted blood for analysis” when he rode for Kelme.
He assured the court there were none of his blood bags in police custody and agreed to DNA testing if asked by a “judicial authority.”
Only Manzano came clean among Spanish riders
Their testimony concluded a parade of current and former cyclists scheduled to testify during the Puerto trial over the past two weeks.
Saíz’s attorney on Tuesday canceled a request to call Alberto Contador, who was also scheduled to testify Friday, insisting that Contador could add “nothing new to the case.”
Of all the Spanish cyclists to appear, only Jesús Manzano, a former Kelme rider, testified that Fuentes administered blood transfusions and gave him banned performance-enhancing products.
The other Spanish riders all denied Fuentes was involved in doping practices, among them former Tour podium man Joseba Beloki. Nozal said he had contact with Fuentes, including undergoing blood extractions, but vowed they were never re-injected into his system.
In contrasting testimony, Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and former pro Jörg Jaksche both admitted working with Fuentes. Jaksche detailed a long history of extractions and use of illicit products in a detailed, four-hour appearance in court while Basso maintained his line that he only “intended to dope” with Fuentes and never underwent planned infusions during the 2006 Tour de France, in part, because he was removed from the race before the start.
Vicioso’s and Serrano’s testimony was in sharp contrast to that of Tyler Hamilton, who testified via videoconference on Tuesday. The American ex-pro explained how he became ill once after a botched transfusion. “My urine was black,” Hamilton said.
Winding down testimony
The Puerto trial continues next week with more expert witnesses called by prosecutors who will outline dangers of illicit blood transfusions and the abuse of banned substances.
The week of March 4 sees the conclusion of testimony and the commencement of final arguments from both sides of the case. It’s unclear how long that could take, with attorneys from the five defendants expected to lay out their case. Then it will be the turn of two state prosecutors and six other agencies, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, joining the case.
Arguments are expected to wrap up by mid-March. The judge will then consider the final verdict, which could take several more weeks, perhaps even months.