In the chaotic hours before the start of the 2006 Tour de France, officials from the UCI and the Tour de France were frantically scouring a cryptic 36-page facsimile sent by Spain’s Guardia Civil that summarized evidence of one of Europe’s largest and most elaborate blood doping rings.
Officials received the fax on Thursday -- just 36 hours before some 189 riders would start the opening prologue in Strausbourg -- and were under the gun to match a series of veiled, soon-to-be-famous codenames to the Tour peloton.
The summary document – written in Spanish – included the most explosive and damning evidence confiscated in police raids in May 2006 that later became known as Operación Puerto.
The next morning, while riders were going on their final pre-Tour training rides, officials quietly approached various squads. Based on review of the summary documents, nine riders from four teams were linked to the alleged doping ring orchestrated by controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Later that afternoon, the list of the “Puerto Nine” was released to the media.
The biggest bombshells were pre-race favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. Also banished were Francisco Mancebo, fourth overall in the 2005 Tour, and Oscar Sevilla, the Spanish climber on Ullrich’s T-Mobile team.
The entire Astana team featuring pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov was removed because five of its nine starters were on the list, leaving the team of Manolo Saíz short of the required six starters.
Almost overlooked on the list was Alberto Contador, the man who is now poised to win the 94th Tour de France.
As the Tour attempts to regroup Thursday following the controversial ejection of race leader Michael Rasmussen, new questions are being raised about Contador and his presence on the Puerto list last year.
Many are wondering how he appeared on the Puerto list and why he is racing in the very event that he was ejected from one year ago.
The short answer is that it appears in a rush to cull information from the hastily assembled evidence, Contador was identified based on references to his name that appeared in the first review of police documents.
A more thorough review when officials had more time, however, revealed no damning evidence that Contador was implicated in the doping scandal.
A Spanish judge and the UCI both cleared Contador. Even the elusive Fuentes, speaking last year on Spanish radio, said he never worked with Contador.
“I was on the wrong team at the wrong time. My name was on this infamous list, but one week later, the UCI had more time to examine the documents and I was taken off. My relation with Puerto was annulled,” Contador said. “I was cleared of any link with the scandal.”
That didn’t stop journalists from grilling Contador on Thursday after he slipped on the maillot jaune for the first time and asked him straight up if the world could believe him.
“I’m clean or I wouldn’t be here right now,” Contador said. “I have passed all my controls, both in and out of competition, without problem.”
Contador also denied he works with controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, the infamous preparatore who worked with former Discovery Channel captain Lance Armstrong.
“I’ve never seen Ferrari and I wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him. I’ve never spoken a word to him,” he said. “My doctors are the ones from the team. I don’t work with anyone else.”
Name in documents
Contador’s appearance on the Puerto list could have killed his budding career.
Discovery Channel boss Johan Bruyneel said he checked out Contador’s story before signing him to a contract, saying the Spaniard’s situation was different than Ivan Basso’s, who eventually confessed being part of the Puerto doping ring despite lying about it for nearly one year.
“I have no reservations about Alberto,” Bruyneel said. “The UCI admitted they made a mistake by including Alberto in this case. It’s a whole other story for Alberto.”
VeloNews obtained a copy of the original 36-page document sent from the Guardia Civil to authorities in France last July.
After a thorough review of the document, VeloNews found only two mentions of Contador. Neither of those two references could be linked to illicit doping products or doping practices, officials later decided.
The first reference to Contador is mentioned on a list of then-Liberty Seguros teammates (spelling mistakes remain as is) that appear on a document later to identified as a list of training schedules for members of the team:
En el documento 3 se observan marcados de distinta forma los nombres de los corredores: Dariuz BARANOWSKY; Josefa BELOKI; Ginpaolo CARUSO; Alberto CONTADOR; Allan DAVIS; David ETXEBARRÍA; Igor GONZÁLEZ DE GALDEANO; Roberto HERAS; Jorg JAKSCHE; Isidro NOZAL; Sergio PAULINHO; Nuno RIBEIRO; Luis León SÁNCHEZ; Michele SCARPONI; Marcos SERRANO y Ángel VICIOSO.
The second reference includes initials of riders’ name that appeared on another training document:
En el reverso del documento 31 se localizan unas anotaciones manuscritas con el título “INDIVIDUALIZACIÓN” en el que se identifican a distintos corredores del equipo LIBERTY-SEGUROS WÜRTH por sus iniciales: R. H. (Roberto HERAS), M. S. (Marcos SERRANO), J. B. (Joseba BELOKI), I. G. (Igor GONZÁLEZ), A. V. (Ángel VICIOSO), J. J. (Jorg JAKSCHE), A. D. (Alan DAVIS), L. (sin identificar), A. C. (Alberto CONTADOR) .
Contador’s name was also heard in taped phone conversations of Fuentes, but authorities said his name appears only in reference to conversations about race results.
Even Tour officials seemed content that a rider on last year’s Puerto list could win this year’s scandal-ridden edition.
“He was part of the dossier at first, but after closer review, he was rightly removed,” said ASO president Patrice Clerc before Thursday’s start. “His name was mentioned in taped phone conversations, but the references were related to sporting results. In no instance could his name be linked as a client of Fuentes or Operación Puerto, so his name was excluded.”
When asked if the world can trust him, Contador gave a friendly smile and said, “Yes, of course.”
The Puerto 9 - Where are they now?
Here’s an update of what happened to the nine riders who were kicked out before the start of last year’s Tour de France.*
Jan Ullrich (retired) Fired by T-Mobile, denied working with Fuentes, retired in late February. In early April, German prosecutors using DNA samples matched nine pouches of blood confiscated in police raids to Ullrich.Ivan Basso (banned) Mutual agreement to leave Team CSC last fall, cleared initially by Italian authorities for lack of substantial proof, signed a two-year contract with Discovery Channel for 2007-08. Italian officials called Basso to testify May 2, suspended by Discovery Channel, currently serving a two-year ban after admitting about the “intention to dope” during the 2006 Tour.Oscar Sevilla (Relax-Gam) Fired by T-Mobile, was seen in police video leaving apartments used by Fuentes, confirms knowing Fuentes, but denies doping; signed with Spanish continental team Relax-Gam, but could face charges in Germany. Won a stage at the 2007 Volta a Catalunya and stage and overall at Route de Sud.Francisco Mancebo (Relax-Gam) Released by Ag2r, but still received a large portion of his million-dollar contract, reportedly considered retirement, signed with Relax-Gam.Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) Name appeared in some training documents associated with Liberty Seguros, Fuentes himself said he never worked with Contador, cleared by Spanish judge and the UCI, signed with Discovery Channel; in 2007 won Paris-Nice, Vuelta a Castilla y León, a stage at the Vuelta a Valenciana and stage 14 at the Tour de France.Joseba Beloki (no team) Three-time Tour podium man denies working with Fuentes, hasn’t found team since Liberty Seguros collapsed.Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) Cleared by Australian authorities for lack of substantial proof, denies working with Fuentes, signed by Discovery Channel, finished second at Milan-San Remo.Isidro Nozal (Karpin-Galicia) Ex-Liberty Seguros rider denies working with Fuentes, signed with Spanish continental team owned by former Russian soccer star, Valery Karpin.Jörg Jaksche (ex-Tinkoff) Jaksche admitted in a paid interview with Der Spiegel last month he was a Fuentes client.
* (Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Assan Bazayev and Luis León Sánchez were not linked to Fuentes, but did not start because Astana failed to reach the minimum requirement of six starters)