Jesus Manzano

Operation Puerto and it’s Legacy Part 1

July 12th 2003. In the scorching summer heat the Tour de France peloton prepares for a punishing day heading east from Lyon into the mountains of Morzine. The first mountain day of the centenary Tour and the chance for the top contenders to lay their mark on the race.

Within the Kelme team bus Spanish climber Jesus Manzano confidently phones his wife telling her to expect a big win today. How could he be so sure of victory? The team doctor Dr Eufemiano Fuentes had just given him an injection of an unknown substance. He would later find out that it was Oxyglobin, a blood substitute used to treat anaemia in dogs.

Manzano’s predictions rings true early in Stage Seven, as he and eventual stage winner Richard Virenque break from the peloton on the first climb to attempt to join the earlier breakaway. Three kilometers up the Col de Portes Manzano begins to feel dizzy before collapsing at the side of the road 500 meters later. The race doctor mistakenly diagnoses heat stroke as he is airlifted to a nearby hospital. It’s here that Manzano claims team manager Joan Mas asked him to refuse all blood tests.

He suffered a near-fatal dehydration that day, something he later testified was because of his Oxyglobin injection. This near death experience had a massive effect on Manzano who begins to grow disillusioned with the sport. He was forced by the team to ride to 2003 Volta a Portugal, however in the days leading up to the race he became ill again with an allergic reaction after receiving an contaminated 125ml blood bag from Fuentes assistant.

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Jesus Manzano in the green,white and blue Kelme jersey in happier times. Soon after this early break on Stage Seven he would collapse from extreme dehydration caused by doping products. Photo: AFP.

Two serious health scares thanks to doping were a lot to handle for the young Spaniard. Late in the 2003 Vuelta a Espana the team fired him for disputed reasons. The team said they fired him for breaking the rules on having a woman in his room during the race. He testified in court that the team fired him once he told them they were putting riders lives at risk with their doping programme.

Kelme moved on without Manzano, who was now facing an uncertain future within cycling. After six months of quiet the matter exploded back into life in March 2004 when he did an interview with Spanish newspaper As detailing Kelme’s doping.

The story made national news as he listed the cocktail of drugs he used between 2001-2003 including EPO, blood transfusions, cortisone, a female hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin,testosterone, Synacthen which has been used in horse racing, Actovegin derived from calf blood  and Oxyglobin. He also made damning allegations that the team pressured him to dope and that they assisted with doping. He also explained that before the 2003 Tour de France he was asked to contribute €3000 to contribute towards the teams medical expenses, something he believes every rider on the team did.

His allegations caused a stir within the sport as he explained that every rider on the Kelme team apart from Juan Miguel Cuenca were doping. This was a major controversy that engulfed star riders on the team such as 2002 Vuelta winner Aitor Gonzalez, 2nd in the 2001 Vuelta Oscar Sevilla, 3rd overall in the 2003 Vuelta Alejandro Valverde and 4th overall in the 2002 Tour Santiago Botero. These were some of the most successful and promising Spanish riders in cycling being implicated in doping.

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Aitor Gonzalez on the top step celebrating victory in the 2002 Vuelta a Espana. Gonzalez never climbed these heights again before retiring in 2006 after a two-year doping ban. His more recent exploits have included alleged bank fraud and robbery. Photo: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com.

The response from the sport was to be expected. The team refuted all allegations and said that Manzano’s motives were revenge after the team fired him the previous September. Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc also questioned the allegations, however after further revelations he rescinded the Kelme teams invite to the 2004 Tour.

Whilst the sport dismissed his claims the Spanish Sports Council opened an investigation immediately looking into these allegations. They questioned three doctors and staff associated with the team during the early 2000’s Dr Walter Viru,  Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and Alfredo Cordova. The investigation was later dropped because of a lack of evidence.

This appeared to the end of the matter, with the revelations seemingly going nowhere as the sport moved on into 2006 with nothing having changed. That however, was soon to be shattered in a massive way.  Find out in Part Two.

By Jordan Wilkins

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