Cyclists decry Puerto judge's ruling

NAPLES, Italy -- Cyclists and team directors at the Giro d'Italia have condemned a Spanish court's decision this week to destroy the blood bags seized in the Operation Puerto doping case.

A judge ordered the destruction of more than 200 bags of blood and other evidence gathered in police raids involving Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in 2006. He testified he had clients from other sports, including soccer, tennis, boxing and track, but they were not identified.

In a series of interviews with The Associated Press, most riders and team directors expressed disappointment with the ruling, saying it undermines efforts to catch the cheats and uncover the extent of one of the biggest drug scandals in European sports.

"I don't agree with the decision to destroy all the evidence. It doesn't quite make sense to me," said Taylor Phinney, an American rider with the BMC squad who won the time trial that opened last year's Giro.

David Millar, a British rider who returned from a doping ban to become an outspoken critic of banned drugs, is hoping the ruling gets overturned on appeal. Anti-doping organizations have until May 17 to appeal.

"I know the Spanish anti-doping agency are firmly against (destroying the evidence) and I know WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) are firmly against that," Millar told the AP before the opening stage of the Giro on Saturday.

The Madrid court found Fuentes guilty of endangering public health and handed him a one-year suspended jail sentence. He was barred from medical practice in sports for four years and ordered to pay a $6,0 00 fine.

Judge Julia Santamaria cited Spanish privacy laws Tuesday in her decision not to turn over the evidence to anti-doping authorities.

The ruling, unless overturned on appeal, would prevent officials from identifying the doctor's blood-doping clients and pursuing disciplinary cases against them.

"Unfortunately institutions often don't handle things the same way in every country," said Stefano Zanatta, the team director for Ivan Basso's Cannondale squad.

Basso, a two-time Giro winner, served a two-year ban after the Italian Olympic Committee connected him to the Puerto case in 2007.

"Basso is really the only one who paid for it," Zanatta said. "He's a bit bitter about it but he was already resigned to the fact that it would end up like that. Unfortunately, he paid a much higher price than anyone else."

Basso withdrew his name from the Giro entry list Thursday because of a groin cyst.

Michele Scarponi, who was awarded the 2011 Giro title after Alberto Contador was stripped of the honor in another doping case, was banned for 18 months in the Puerto case in 2007.

"We're disappointed, but this story is 10 years old and I don't think we need to discuss it anymore -- it's useless and it hurts cycling, which is the only sport involved so far," Zanatta added.

More than 50 cyclists were implicated in the Puerto case and several were identified by name as having worked with Fuentes.

WADA is reviewing the court decision and is in contact with the Spanish anti-doping agency about whether to appeal.

Samuel Sanchez, the 2008 Olympic road race champion from Spain, just wants to move on.

"A lot of time has passed. It was up to the authorities to make decisions, and you have to respect that," he said. "We cannot do anything about it, it is something that happened in the past, some may back the verdict, others may not, but I think we have to look ahead. The past is the past and cycling carries on."