SHOULD VALVERDE RIDE AT THE WORLDS?
Ten days to go until the World Championship road race in Stuttgart. Ten more days of legal argument, claim and counter-claim by the various interested - not to say self-interested - parties in the escalating Alejandro Valverde row.
Should the Spanish rider be allowed on the start line a week on Sunday? Should the Spanish Cycling Federation begin disciplinary proceedings against him? Will the Court of Arbitration for Sport eventually have to intervene at the eleventh hour?
There is the very real prospect of this row going right to the wire. Valverde could even start and, given the German public’s likely reaction, his every move on the circuit in Stuttgart could be met by a chorus of whistles and boos.
In one corner stands the UCI, which says there is sufficient additional evidence in the 6,000-page file to bring sporting sanctions against Valverde and ban him from the World Championships. Anne Gripper has said this information strengthens the link between Valverde and Dr Fuentes and gives grounds for the Spanish Cycling Federation to open a case against the rider.
In the other corner stands Valverde, who has made threats to sue but has so far not issued any writs. Behind him in support are Jaime Lissavetzky, the Spanish sports minister, and the country’s Government. The government says that because any alleged actions relating to Operacion Puerto were not criminal offences at the time, the files are not admissible.
In turn the Spanish Cycling Federation is using the Government’s position to bolster its resistance to opening a case against Valverde.
Why, comes the cry, has it taken the UCI until now to mention this when they have had the Operacion Puerto documents since the spring? One reason is that 6,000 pages took a long time to sift through. The UCI had two Spanish-speaking lawyers working on the files all summer. They didn’t pick them up in the post one day, put them on the shelf for a few months and get round to having a look at them a couple of weeks ago.
Having analysed the information within the UCI followed its procedure and requested that the Spanish Cycling Federation take disciplinary action.
The block in the pipe is in Spain where there are fears that if Valverde goes down the lid will have to be lifted on the rest of the information in those 6,000 pages. And, so the strong rumour goes, that could point fingers in the direction of other, more powerful sporting bodies. The time bomb goes on ticking.
The UCI has been accused of acting in self-interest but it’s difficult to see what the governing body is gaining from this. Valverde is one of the few genuine ‘stars’ left still standing but the UCI is willing to exclude him from its flagship event. By courting this long, ugly battle it is prepared to sully the build-up to what should be a fantastic race for the rainbow jersey.
If McQuaid and co wanted an easy ride, the UCI would have let sleeping dogs lie and reassured the nervous German authorities that Valverde was good to go. They wouldn’t have bothered scrutinising 6,000 pages of information, or asking the Spanish Cycling Federation to bring charges against Valverde.
But McQuaid, Gripper and other high-ranking people at the UCI know exactly what is contained in those documents and believe there is a case to answer. Every utterance they have made damages the reputation of Valverde and runs the risk of bringing legal proceedings – including a costly libel suit – upon the UCI. But still they stick to their guns.
Meanwhile the Valverde case is all based on bluster and the protection offered by the Spanish law. And one suspects the Valverde camp will allow the matter to drag on until the last minute, taking the embarrassment right to the start line.
Riding out the storm all the way to the line won’t demonstrate Valverde’s innocence, it’ll just drag the sport further into disrepute.
And the prospect of him picking up a gold medal and rainbow jersey with such a huge question mark over him doesn’t bear thinking about.