Followers of the huge Operacion Puerto blood doping scandal will remember the affair – Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes offered a blood doping service to professional sportsmen (and presumably sportswomen).  His services are most talked about in the context of professional cycling, but in fact his clients are reported to have included professional sportsmen from other sports.

The saga began with police raids in 2006, when Spain’s Guardia Civil collected coded blood bags during its raid on the offices of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.  (There is excellent coverage over at cyclingnews.com going back several years.) Fuentes’ scheme was to withdraw blood from the cyclists, and store it for retransfusion, a process known as blood doping. This is a formerly legal technique (I believe it was used in the past by the US Olympic track cycling team( but it has been prohibited for many years now.  It’s still clearly in use – witness the sorry tales of (for example) Vinokourov and Hamilton in recent years.

Fuentes stored the bags of blood. and identified them with a variety of codenames, often related to the athlete by using as a code the name of athlete’s pet dog.  The problem has been relating the blood in the bags to the athletes – in principle this would be simple, using a DNA fingerprinting test, but in practice, a number of legal hurdles have prevented widespread hurdles.

There are a number of dangers associated with blood doping, ranging from infections due to the transfusion techniques to dangerous outcomes following transfusion of someone else’s blood (a possible explanation of Hamilton’s bizarre blood doping episode). I’ve posted before on blood doping – Vinokourov, blood doping, suspension.

Cyclingnews.com reports that Alejandro Valverde is facing trial in Italy (Valverde prepares for legal battle in Italy)

Documents from Madrid’s Court 31 link Valverde to confiscated blood via codes Valv, Piti and 18. Despite attempts in the past years, authorities have not been able to prove links or stop Valverde from racing. 

At the moment, Valverde’s lawyer has filed for postponement – apparently he’s got another trial on that date.  But one lives in hope that finally, the chickens will come home to roost for Fuentes’ clients.  It’s unfortunate that cycling has been singled out here (there were rumours at the time that tennis players and footballers were also involved), and that it’s taken so long for most of the riders to be brought to book. 

I still believe that attention needs to be paid to the team structure, which ultimately could be part of an effective solution to the doping problem, but which seems to me to often be part of the problem. Perhaps if sanctions were more often applied to teams as well as individual riders, more progress would be made.  The Tour de France organisers have taken steps to ban teams (such as Astana) following doping scandals, but too often thesesa ctions come across as rather capricious and subjective.