Vuelta a Espana

Operation Puerto and it’s Legacy Part 2

Before getting started I just wanted to say a massive thank you to anyone who read part one of this story I massively appreciate it! If anyone hasn’t yet read it yet they can find it here.

Last time we made it up to early 2006 and by this time not much had happened with Manzano’s allegations. A Spanish Sports Council investigation was dropped due to lack of evidence and the sport of cycling moved on denying any of his allegations. Things began changing  in early 2006 when the Spanish Guardia Civil opened a police investigation on these allegations based on endangering public health crimes.

The police began investigating Fuentes using wire taps of his phone and covert surveillance on his movements. What they were quickly able to establish was that Fuentes had become a major player in the doping of professional cyclists. Just in May alone they were able to place him with a wealth of Spanish connected riders.

Whether it was Santiago Botero and Constantino Gutierrez on the 4th May, Oscar Sevilla on the 13th May or Jorg Jaksche on the 14th May it was clear that Fuentes offices in Madrid had become a one-stop doping shop for most in the peloton. Multiple blood bags with dates matching their arrivals would later be found in medical freezers in Fuentes apartments. As well as cyclists flying in on an almost daily basis Fuentes was also orchestrating doping for many top name riders competing in the 2006 Giro D’Italia that month also.

Phone records from this time period show Fuentes talking with his assistants Alberto Leon Herranz and Jose Luis Merino Batres, along with Comunidad Valenciana DS Ignacio Labarta Barrera, who were organising the doping in Italy. After both stages seven and eight on the 13th and 14th of May Fuentes and Labarta Barrera comment on the days stage, talking about the contenders they have doping links with.

20061669_66166_670

Ivan Basso grimaces during his victorious 2006 Giro D’Italia win. Months later he would prove a key player in Operation Puerto, casting overwhelming doubt on his Giro win being clean. Photo: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com.

Those include dominant overall winner Ivan Basso, who is linked in the documents with having taken a blood bag two days before his first stage win on the 14th May, however this has never been confirmed. Second place Jose Enrique Gutierrez was also listed as a client of Fuentes, with his documents suggesting he took two bags, one days before the Giro and the second on the 12th the same as Basso. Michele Scarponi and Unai Oso Eizaguirre were also mentioned as having finished well with both later being implicated by documentation to using Fuentes for doping.

The first shocks of this investigation were felt on the 23rd May with Spanish police arresting Liberty-Seguros directeur sportif Manolo Saiz along with Fuentes and three others. Raids of Fuentes medical practices found a trove of performance enhancing drugs and documents linking him to professional cyclists. 

Between two medical practices in Madrid Spanish police uncovered 185 refrigerated blood bags along with plasma bags to maintain the blood and medical equipment for blood transfusions. Police also found Actovegin,Andriol (testosterone), Eposino (EPO),Jintropin (HGH),Synacthene, Vivarin (Caffeine tablets) and six different varieties of Insulin.  The majority of these medications were illegal in Spain and were bought from counterfeit labs across the world. Along with these were a trove of legal medical products such as Prozac and Diazepam. 

Police also found a jar of white pills with a hand-written known which they believed to be a steroid called Oxitosone. They uncovered a mysterious red powder which they believe was given to athletes to use to contaminate any doping tests to ensure they would not test positive.

3541e4f500000578-0-image-a-3_1465899543938

The man at the centre of this scandal, Eufemiano Fuentes leaves Spanish court during his trial for charges of endangering public health. The case has floundered in court since his initial arrest in May 2006. Photo:AP.

In police interviews on the 24th May Liberty-Seguros team director sportif Manolo Saiz noted star rider Roberto Heras requested working with Fuentes in early 2004. From here fellow former Kelme riders Marcos Serrano and Angel Vicioso made similar requests. After impressive 2nd and 7th places in the 2003 and 2004 Vuelta Saiz then requested that Isidro Nozal work with Fuentes from late 2004 onwards.

Barely six months later Nozal would be suspended for two weeks after registering a hematocrit of over 50% at the 2005 Dauphine Libere, a key Tour de France warm-up race. He would later admit to having done three blood transfusions with Fuentes in 2005.

What the documents would show was that Fuentes had extensive links with the doping of the two Spanish teams Liberty-Seguros and Comunidad Valenciana. He appeared to have a personal relationship with Liberty-Seguros DS Manolo Saiz and Comunidad DS Jose Ignacio Labarta along with his prior relationship to the team as their former doctor in their Kelme days as well as having his sister Yolanda Fuentes as the teams doctor from 2001-2006.

He was directly linked to the likes of Roberto Heras, Jorg Jaksche, Joseba Beloki, Isidro Nozal, Marcos Serrano, Michele Scarponi, Angel Vicioso and David Etxeberria at Liberty-Seguros to name just a select few of many. He had similar longstanding links at Comunidad Valenciana along with a wealth of foreign riders who used him for doping.

14540977073133

Spanish climber Roberto Heras wearing the leaders jersey at the 2005 Vuelta a Espana. After a positive EPO test from the penultimate day Heras was stripped of victory but was later reinstated in 2012 after numerous court appeals. Heras had requested working with Fuentes 18 months prior to this race. Photo: Rodolfo Espinosa/Brand.

In this early stage however this information was not public with media speculation leaking slowly as more and more riders were speculated to have worked with Fuentes. Amid this hysteria the teams looked to protect themselves with T-Mobile asking riders to formally distance themselves from Fuentes whilst Phonak suspended star riders Santiago Botero and Jose Enrique Gutierrez.

On the 1st June Comunidad Valenciana DS Jose Ignacio Labarta resigned, as Liberty-Seguros ended their sponsorship of the old ONCE team. This left the team scrambling as they transitioned from Liberty-Seguros-Wurth to Astana-Wurth. The sport was descending into farce as Astana-Wurth were first banned and then allowed to compete in the 2006 Tour de France as the 2006 Spanish National Road Race was cancelled after 500 meters because of a mass rider protest.

The biggest drama from the case would come only two days before the start of the 2006 Tour de France. I’ll explain what happened and bring us to the modern day in the third and final installment of this thread which will be coming very soon!

Thank you for reading part two if you have any feedback or comment at all feel free to leave it below you can find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

1637507-34747979-2560-1440

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.

20021257_46582_670

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

Thank you so much for reading this article if you have any feedback at all I would massively appreciate it just let me know in the comments section below! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.    

 

 

 

End Of An Era For Marcel Kittel And Giant-Alpecin

Last Friday the end of one of the most successful recent partnerships was formally announced, as Team Giant-Alpecin and Marcel Kittel announced they would split at the end of this season. For four years both supported and helped each other grow from unknown’s to contenders in all three grand tours. Now this morning it was announced Kittel will instead join the Belgian team Etixx-Quickstep, but what is the legacy being left behind from this split?

Who could have predicted when the young German U23 time trial champion Marcel Kittel joined the small Skil-Shimano in 2011, that within three years they will have won 11 stages in grand tours, including eight in the Tour de France. During his junior career Kittel excelled in the time trial, yet once he moved up to the professional ranks he blossomed into the fastest sprinter in the peloton.

Wins in smaller development races such as the Four Days of Dunkirk showed his talent, however his ultimate potential was not known. That was until Stage 7 of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. One of cycling’s three major grand tours, it’s a race known for it’s extreme difficulty. Yet Kittel was able to out sprint notable rivals Peter Sagan and Oscar Freire to claim the stage win in his very first grand tour.Now it was clear to the cycling world that Kittel was a man to watch in the coming years.

The upward trend continued into 2012, with a flurry of victories which led up to his and the team’s debut at the 2012 Tour de France. Kittel would spearhead the team as he looked for stage wins and the green points jersey. Sadly, this dream would turn into a nightmare as he failed to win a stage before being forced to abandon the race early in stage five thanks to a viral infection.

Whilst 2012 was a relative disappointment for Kittel and Skil-Shimano, 2013 would be the coming out party for both. With a change of name to Argos-Shimano and a step up to the premier WorldTour of cycling, the pressure was on to prove their worth. Winning stages of warm up races such as Paris-Nice and the Tour of Oman showed that he and the team would be firing on all cylinder’s come July and the Tour de France.

With an expert sprint train comprising team mates John Degenkolb, a very quick sprinter himself, Tom Veelers and Tom Dumoulin to name a few, Kittel was put in the perfect position to win the first stage going into Corsica. A bizarre incident with the Orica-GreenEdge team bus and the finish line banner created confusion, however in the end Kittel out sprinted rival Alexander Kristoff to claim a momentous maiden Tour de France stage win for both Kittel and the Dutch Argos-Shimano team.

The team’s joy is captured brilliantly in the riveting documentary on the team, Clean Spirit, which is well worth a watch. The win also signaled Kittel’s first leaders yellow jersey. This prestigious honor is usually the domain of general classification riders, yet Kittel was able to steal it early on.

Kittel celebrates his yellow jersey at the 2013 Tour de France. Photo credit thanks to Getty Images.

Kittel would go on to completely dominate the sprinting stages of the Tour, effortlessly showing up noted sprint supremo Mark Cavendish to record stage victories on stages 10,12 and 21. His last stage win on the Champs-Elysees was the realizing of a dream come true for the young German, who broke Mark Cavendish’s four year streak of stage wins on the Champs-Elysees.

Victory in the world’s most famous sprint stage completed a fairy tale Tour de France for Marcel Kittel and his Argos-Shimano team. The success in their first year at the world tour level and second Tour de France was staggering, with the joy of their incredible Tour being captured in the film Clean Spirit. The film is well worth a watch for anyone interested in cycling.

With the majority of the team being retained for 2014, and a healthy new sponsor in bike manufacturer Giant, the only question was if Kittel and the team could repeat their feats of a year before? This question would be answered only a few months into the season.

Victories in several early season races were cemented with two stage wins early on in the 2014 Giro D’Italia. The season’s first grand tour saw Kittel dominate the early sprints, before abandoning the race at the end of stage three to fully concentrate on the Tour de France. With a similar team of talented domestiques supporting him, much pre-race attention was focused on the impending battle between the likes of Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan and Kittel for the sprint honors.

Mark Cavendish suffered the worst possible start and was forced out of the Tour before stage one even finished, a crash in the bunch sprint leaving him with a seperated right shoulder and broken dreams of Tour de France success. Kittel went on to win the opening stage and claim the first yellow jersey for the second consecutive year.

Whilst he lost the leaders jersey on the next stage, Kittel could console himself with wins on stages three and four. A long struggle ensured over the next two weeks as Kittel used all the support of his team to haul himself up the iconic French mountains, steeling himself for the final stage and the sprint on the famous Champs-Elysees. Unofficially known as the world championship for sprinter’s, Kittel was intent on repeating his landmark victory from a year before.

Both of Kittel’s victories on the Champs-Elysees were almost identical, both times narrowly defeating Alexander Kristoff at the line. Finishing off the year with two stage victories in the Tour of Britain cemented Kittel’s most successful year yet in cycling. His star was rising, the question what heights could he reach in his career?

Kittel celebrating his Champs-Elysees victory in 2014. Photo sourced from cyclingweekly.co.uk .

Whilst the past two years were a dream for Marcel Kittel, 2015 was a reminder that real life isn’t a fantasy but sometimes a nightmare. A race win in January indicated this year would be another successful one, however a virus destroyed the rest of his season.

Initially he was set to make several comeback’s in the months leading up to the Tour de France, but when these were postponed his Giant-Alpecin team were forced to admit defeat on the matter. Kittel was not selected for the Tour de France team, instead forced to watch his team mates at home as he still recovered from his virus.

The rest of the year proved difficult for Kittel, although he did manage to win the opening stage of the Tour of Poland. Whilst Kittel slowly returned to the peloton in the later months of the season, a shift amongst his Giant-Alpecin team was brewing.

His team mate, close friend and fellow sprinter John Degenkolb demonstrated his talents early in the year, taking on some of Kittel’s success as he won both Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix. Both make up a group of cycling’s classics, and are highly prestigious races to win.

Following on from this the team also achieved some success at the Tour de France, despite missing Kittel, as German mountain domestique Simon Geschke won stage 17, and Degenkolb challenged for several sprint finishes. The real shift for the team occurred during the Vuelta a Espana. The young Dutchman Tom Dumoulin emerged from the shadows of his domestique support duty to win two stages and seriously challenge for the overall win.

Tom Dumoulin celebrating with the leaders red jersey in this year’s Vuelta a Espana. Photo sourced from cyclingweekly.co.uk .

This general classification ride from Dumoulin showed his incredible talent and shocked the cycling community, as he stated his claim for the future. The effect of this on the Giant-Alpecin team has been significant, as it now appears the team have switched their mentality from that of a sprinters team to a general classification team.

Tom Dumoulin will likely now lead the team in the GC, whilst John Degenkolb will assume the sprinters duties vacated by Kittel. After some talks with the team, the breakdown of their relationship was established as Kittel was granted a release from his contract a year early.

This has left him free to sign for the Etixx-QuickStep team, where he will hope to return to his top form next year. The Belgian team are primarily a sprinters team, therefore Kittel will receive the maximum support from established riders such as great friend Tony Martin.

Unfortunately, it simply seems that whilst both Marcel Kittel and the Giant-Alpecin team achieved a lot of success, once both were established on the world tour, they were destined to move apart in their future goals. For their fans they will now have the memories of the two year period where both Marcel Kittel and the Giant-Alpecin team rocked the cycling establishment.