The leader of this year’s Vuelta a Espana, Alejandro Valverde, has seven seconds on Cadel Evans of Silence- Lotto and 36 seconds on Robert Gesink of Rabobank. He should probably care less about that time. The real question is how much time does Valverde have on CAS, the Court for Arbitration in Sport?
Since CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, handed the Spanish rider a two year ban for alleged blood doping in the Operacion Puerto affair, the talented Valverde has been riding on borrowed time. If and when the CAS renders its own decision on whether to uphold that ban, Valverde could easily find his career on hold for two years and his recent results wiped off the books–including a potential Vuelta victory.
Then again, maybe not. When it comes to drug enforcement in professional cycling, time is elastic and the wheels of justice turn at glacial speed. Operacion Puerto was over three years ago and since that time Valverde has won more than twenty major races including classics Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Fleche Wallonne, Dauphine Libere, San Sebastian and stages in the Vuelta and Tour de France. All while under a thick cloud of suspicion and embarrassment that won’t go away. Meanwhile the legal delays, squabbles and infighting would astonish anyone outside the world of cycling. And sicken those with a much closer view.
The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) has chosen nationalism over integrity and disputes the findings and jurisdiction of the Italian commission. This despite DNA evidence linking Valverde to blood bags seized in Operacion Puerto.
If Floyd Landis and his off-the-charts testosterone was a slap in the face of the Tour de France. Then Valverde winning the Vuelta would be a kick in the groin, another painful and public setback. With the stakes so high, the answers are still maddeningly vague. UCI president Pat McQuaid has no idea when CAS will make a ruling, saying “It’s still outstanding with the CAS. There is nothing we can do until a verdict is reached. He is free to race.” Would the words shocking or baffling cover that statement?
And yet Valverde rides on, defiant, winning races and proclaiming innocence. For three years time has been on his side. The Court of Arbitration in Sport seems to have missed the bigger issue: Embarrassment in Sport. Spanish rider Roberto Heras was stripped of the 2005 Vuelta win for doping. The clock is ticking on Valverde and no matter how fast he and his Caisse d’Epargne team ride, there is little he can do to stop it.