Santiago Botero, a three-time Tour de France stage winner, was among three professional cyclists seen entering apartments where a blood-doping ring was uncovered in 2006, the head of a police investigation told a Madrid court today.
Colombia’s Botero and Spanish riders Oscar Sevilla and Constantino Zaballa were seen during stake-outs in Madrid, said the Civil Guard officer, who was identified only by his police number for security reasons in line with court procedure. A fourth rider, Germany’s Joerg Jaksche, was seen at a nearby hotel, the officer said.
Five defendants including sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and former Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz are on trial for a “crime against public health.” Prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison sentence for each. The police officer said he couldn’t be certain if athletes from other sports were part of the ring.
“I can’t be sure apart from the four I saw,” the police officer said. The more than 200 blood bags found were identified by numbers, he said. “I don’t know if No. 23 was a player from such and such a team.”
Botero, who quit cycling in 2010, Zaballa and Sevilla have all denied being part of the doping ring. Jaksche has confessed to doping in televised interviews.
Cyclists have been known to collect and later transfuse their own blood to increase their body’s volume of oxygen-carrying red blood cells that boost stamina. The World Anti-Doping Agency, whose legal representative can question defendants and witnesses during the trial, is trying to piece together details about the affair known as “Operacion Puerto,” or Operation Mountain Pass.
Police initially linked as many as 58 pro cyclists to the ring, based on phone taps, training notes and other evidence found in raids on the apartments, although fewer than half of that number have faced disciplinary proceedings.
Fuentes testified he helped athletes from cycling, soccer and other sports “guarantee their health was not harmed by the rigors of competition,” the Associated Press reported, citing his testimony last week. Manolo Saiz denied being part of the doping ring in his testimony.
The trial, in its second week, is scheduled to end March 22.