Italians ban Valverde 2 years for doping

ROME -- Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde was banned from competing in Italy for two years because of his involvement in the Operation Puerto blood doping case.

The ruling Monday by the Italian Olympic Committee's anti-doping tribunal does not apply outside Italy, but could keep the rider from this year's Tour de France because part of the route goes through Italy.

A statement issued by Valverde's lawyers and signed by the cyclist said "the crusade launched by the [committee] to sanction the rider is absolutely incomprehensible" as he has never tested positive.

The committee, known as CONI, confronted Valverde in February with DNA evidence and documents that allegedly showed he was involved in Operation Puerto. More than 50 cyclists were originally linked to the Puerto doping ring, which centered on an alleged blood doping clinic in Madrid.

"Valverde will not be able to come to Italy, race or frequent sporting venues for two years," anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri said.

Another prosecutor, Marco Arpino, said the committee was now waiting for the International Cycling Union, which took part in the Rome hearing, to extend his ban worldwide.

"We hope that the UCI makes its own determination on the world level, so that this is extended in all the world as a true and proper ban," he said.

In a statement, Valverde said his lawyers had appealed the decision.

Valverde has filed a complaint in court in Spain, contending the case should be heard by the Spanish cycling federation. He did not attend the Rome hearing and plans to appeal.

His lawyers have said CONI has no jurisdiction. The committee disputes that, saying the DNA samples were taken during the Italian leg of last year's Tour de France. A blood bag was seized in a 2006 raid on the doctor's clinic in Madrid.

Valverde's team, Caisse d'Epargne, called the ruling "unjust, obsolete and made by an obviously incompetent organization."

The team said in a statement the "minimal guarantees of defense that any sportsman must have were not respected" and offered its full support to Valverde in his appeal.

Because the ruling could exclude Valverde from the Tour, the statement said, the team will seek damages against the Italian committee if his appeal is successful.

Valverde contends Torri is overstepping his authority. He says Torri is refusing to obey a Spanish judge who says evidence obtained in Spain cannot be used against him in Italy.

Valverde has said his defense case has already been presented in writing to the committee, "declaring the rider's innocence and highlighting the terrible irregularities made in these proceedings."

World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey defended CONI's jurisdiction.

"I don't accept that CONI acted in an underhanded way," he said.

He called the Valverde ruling "another brick in the wall in the Puerto case" and suggested the Spanish investigation may yield yet more information on cheating.

"There's more to go on Puerto," he said.

Stefano Bovis, the head of CONI's legal department, denounced reports that Valverde might pursue legal action against Torri, saying prosecutors considered such threats "an attempt at intimidation."