A SPANISH DOCTOR on trial over a major blood doping racket involving top professional cyclists said today he had worked for athletes in “all kinds” of sports.
Eufemiano Fuentes, 57, was testifying at his trial in the so-called Puerto affair, one of the biggest ever doping scandals, which came to court this week seven years after it erupted.
Fuentes is charged with public health offences rather than sports doping, which was not illegal at the time in Spain. Although the doctor admits providing blood transfusions for athletes, who he refuses to name, he denies this risked their health.
That may limit the trial’s impact on the sporting world, which is reeling from US cyclist Lance Armstrong’s admission that he doped his way to seven Tour de France victories.
“I worked on a private basis with individual athletes of all kinds,” Fuentes told the court in Madrid in his four-hour testimony today.
Police detained Fuentes in 2006 when they seized 200 bags of blood and other evidence of performance-enhancing transfusions, in an investigation dubbed “Operation Puerto”. Asked who those bags of blood belonged to, Fuentes told the court: “It could be other kinds of athlete, but in 2006 it was mainly cyclists.”
Investigators listed 58 cyclists suspected in the scandal. Of the 58, only six have received sporting sanctions: Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, Germans Jan Ullrich and Joerg Jaksche and Italians Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi and Giampaolo Caruso, who was later cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Fuentes, his sister Yolanda and three other defendants are charged with endangering public health rather than incitement to doping, which was not a crime in Spain at the time of the arrests. He denies that his treatment endangered the cyclists’ health.
He told the court on Tuesday that athletes such as footballers and boxers came to him for “medical and nutritional advice, physical and medical tests to guarantee that their health would not suffer”. He said he did not know whether the cyclists he treated told their team managers about it.
Fuentes said that he and another doctor, Jose Luis Merino Batres, tested the viscosity of the athletes’ blood — known as the hematocrit value — and extracted blood if they found the level too high. After freezing the blood in a bag to preserve it, they reinjected it if the hematocrit value had fallen too low, “because that too is dangerous” for the health, Fuentes said.
Fuentes said he kept a “blood diary” recording the extractions and tagged the frozen blood with codes identifying the athletes.
A court official said this afternoon that Armstrong’s former team-mate Tyler Hamilton will testify at the trial, after the judge granted a request by the World Anti-Doping Agency, a civil party in the case.
Other trial witnesses include Alberto Contador, Tour de France winner in 2007 and 2009, who returned to competition last year after a two-year ban for a separate case in which he denied doping. Contador, due to appear on 5 February, was cleared of any involvement in the Puerto affair.
The date for Hamilton’s testimony had yet to be set.