Operacion Puerto trial could see explosive testimony as riders face judge

A half dozen riders will appear for three days of testimony regarding the doping ring

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MADRID (VN) — Riders take the stand this week for what could be explosive testimony as the Operación Puerto trial enters its third week.

Starting Monday, a half dozen riders will appear before the judge during three days of testimony that should provide more details regarding how the doping ring was administered and carried out.

Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes and four others are facing possible jail terms of two years plus fines for the narrow legal definition of “endangering public health.”

After two weeks, many critics have called the Puerto trial a farce for falling short of disclosing just who was involved and what they were up to.

The ruling judge so far has cut off attempts by Fuentes to disclose the names of his clients, even though the Spanish doctor has openly admitted his work included other sports, such as soccer, boxing, athletics and tennis.

The testimony of the ex-pros should provide an insider’s look at how Fuentes and the others allegedly orchestrated the elaborate doping ring that spanned Europe.

Their testimony will come just after La Gazzetta dello Sport outed Mario Cipollini as one of Fuentes’ clients. The Italian sprinter denied those links.

Liquigas rider Ivan Basso and ex-riders Jörg Jaskche and Marcos Serrano are scheduled to appear Monday.

Known as the codename “Birillo,” former CSC rider Basso served a two-year ban handed down by the Italian Olympic committee (CONI). Basso is one of four riders linked to Fuentes to be banned.

The 35-year-old initially denied links to Puerto, but folded under pressure from CONI. Rather than make a full confession, Basso said he only “intended” to dope, but was slapped with a full ban nonetheless.

Basso returned to racing for Liquigas (now Cannondale) in late 2008 and won the 2010 Giro d’Italia. He insists he’s been racing clean ever since.

Jaksche was identified by Guardia Civil as a Fuentes client and was among nine riders forced out of the 2006 Tour de France. Now 35, Jaksche admitted he was “Bella” on the Fuentes list and said he underwent blood doping and other illicit doping practices.

After a tell-all interview published in Der Spiegel, Jaksche tried an aborted comeback with Tinkoff Systems, but was forced out of the sport. He lives at a ski area at Kitzbuehel, Austria, and has resumed his studies.

The third witness Monday will be Spanish ex-pro Marcos Serrano, a former member of ONCE and Liberty Seguros, teams managed by defendant Manolo Saíz. Guardia Civil identified Serrano simply by his name and he abandoned the 2006 Giro d’Italia when the Puerto raids unfolded in Spain.

Last week, a Guardia Civil agent testified that Serrano entered a hospital and that he was linked to Fuentes. According to the Spanish wire service EFE, the agent said: “We knew he was in an Italian hospital and transferred to Vigo [Spain], where he was in the hospital for 10 days. His girlfriend wrote an SMS to Eufemiano [Fuentes], saying that she needed to talk to him.”

On Tuesday, more former Liberty Seguros riders are set to testify, including Ángel Vicioso (currently on Katusha) and four retired riders, Isidro Nozal, Joseba Beloki, Unai Osa and David Etxebarria.

Jesús Manzano, the former Kelme rider who collapsed during the 2004 Tour de France after what he says was a blood injection gone bad, will be the star witness on Wednesday.

Manzano gave a series of tell-all interviews to the Spanish sports daily AS in 2005 and helped authorities target the Fuentes ring.

Also to testify Wednesday are medical experts Francisco Aguanell and Olaf Schumacher of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Tyler Hamilton, who admitted to being “41-42” in the Puerto papers, is set to testify February 19 via videoconference while Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), who is being called as a defense witness by Saiz’s attorneys, will also testify via video on February 22.

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