MADRID: A doctor accused of masterminding a vast doping network that snared dozens of cyclists went on trial in Spain on Monday along with four alleged conspirators.
Trial witnesses include Alberto Contador, the Tour de France winner in 2007 and 2009, who returned to competition last year after a two-year ban for a separate case in which he denied doping.
The trial in Madrid will do little to boost the credentials of a sport reeling from US rider Lance Armstrong’s admission that he doped his way to a record seven Tour de France wins.
Police busted the Spanish network in 2006 when they seized 200 bags of blood and other evidence of performance-enhancing transfusions, in an investigation dubbed “Operation Puerto.”
Among the five defendants facing charges of an “offense against public health,” the most prominent is the suspected mastermind of the network, 57-year-old doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Investigators listed 58 cyclists suspected in the scandal. Fuentes told Le Monde newspaper he had provided services to others such as tennis players and footballers but later retracted that claim.
Of the 58, six have received sporting sanctions: Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde, Germans Jan Ullrich and Joerg Jaksche and Italians Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi and Giampaolo Caruso, who was later acquitted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Fuentes’s lawyer Julian Perez-Templado told AFP after Monday’s hearing that the doctor would not reveal any more names of people for whom he carried out transfusions.
The other four defendants in the trial are the doctor’s sister Yolanda; former Liberty Seguros cycling team director Manolo Saiz; former Comunitat Valencia team chief Vicente Belda and his deputy, Jose Ignacio Labarta.
Fuentes, in a dark suit and blue tie, and the other four defendants were swarmed by reporters as they arrived at the Madrid court for the start of the hearing, but made no comment.
Perez-Templado said Monday’s hearing dealt with procedural matters and certain demands by civil parties in the case. Judge Maria Santamaria adjourned the trial until Tuesday morning, when Fuentes was due to be the first to testify.
The defendants are charged with endangering public health rather than incitement to doping, which was not a crime at the time of the arrests. A Spanish anti-doping law was passed only in November 2006.
The prosecutor, seeking a two-year prison sentence plus a two-year professional ban for the accused, will have to show that the blood transfusions put the riders’ health at risk.
Fuentes has denied that charge but witnesses such as former cyclist Jesus Manzano, scheduled to testify on February 11, will try to refute his claims.
Since 2004 Manzano, a former rider on Spanish team Kelme of which Fuentes was the head doctor, has alleged generalized doping in the team and says he himself underwent transfusions of adulterated blood.