OPERACION PUERTO: DNA TESTING 'REMAINS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE'
According to a report in Spanish newspaper El Pais on Friday, Spanish judges have said that any cyclist implicated in Operacion Puerto can queue up, hand over their DNA, and get it compared with the 200 bags of manipulated blood that form a central part of the anti-doping probe.
The story went round the cycling world faster than you can say Eufemiano Fuentes. Hardly surprising, really: on paper this appeared to be the breakthrough that everybody had been waiting for. Finally 'Nicolas', 'Sansone', 'Huerta', 'Valv.Piti', 'Urkos' and all the rest of the nicknames used when labelling those blood bags, several of which have already been discovered to contain EPO, could be revealed.
Well, the theory is that they can. The practice may be just a little more difficult.
Problem number one, according to Spanish legal sources consulted by Cycling Weekly, is that the judge at the centre of the case, Antonio Serrano, may not be one of those judges consulted as he wasn’t named in the article.
Serrano, a specialist in criminal law, has - so far - denied the cyclists that possibility of DNA comparison. Not just that, when first presiding the case, Serrano simply sent a questionnaire to the majority of riders who were suspected of being Fuentes' clients, asking them if they were indeed clients, and if they had had health problems because of blood transfusions.
As it happens, when news of Puerto broke, the entire, now defunct Comunitat Valenciana team - many of whom were implicated in the case - turned up and offered to hand them a DNA sample so they could be compared with the blood bags. They weren’t allowed to do so.
Yes, former T-Mobile professional rider and 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich’s DNA was identified as belonging to one of the blood bags. But that was because Ullrich was a direct part of a criminal case being investigated in Germany. In Puerto, the cyclists are considered witnesses, and they are not on trial.
Now, with Puerto re-opened - albeit in far more limited form than its original concept - judges consulted by El Pais have said that it would be possible to do a DNA comparison.
The devil, though, is in the detail. “DNA testing remains almost impossible. Any cyclist who wanted to do so would have to prove his legal implication in Puerto.” Spanish legal sources told Cycling Weekly (That, bizarre as it may sound, is not the case of all those riders accused of being involved in Puerto).
“Then on top of that, assuming their request to have their DNA compared is once again rejected, they’d have to appeal. If that appeal was successful, they could do it.”
The process appears, therefore, to be technically possible - but should it happen, it could take years, and would probably involve a court over-turning previous legal decrees. The legal cost could well be very high as well.
But for cyclists who want to clear their name, getting involved in that tortuous process may be the only way out of the labyrinth that Operacion Puerto has become.