Tour de France Blood-Doping Didn’t Harm Riders, Court Hears

Cyclist Jesus Manzano
The trial began on Jan. 28 and has heard testimony from Spanish cyclist Jesus Manzano, who is seeking 180,000 euros in damages. Photographer: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images

April 2 (Bloomberg) -- Tour de France cyclists who paid for blood transfusions and drugs to boost performance haven’t suffered repercussions on their health, a defense lawyer said in closing arguments at a trial of five team managers and doctors in Madrid.

Former rider Jesus Manzano, who has blamed a transfusion of an incorrectly stored blood bag for keeling over on a mountain climb at the 2003 edition of the elite French race, was affected by sun stroke, Tomas Valdivielso, the attorney of sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, said.

“Even Manzano hasn’t been affected even though he has speculated” about the possibility of getting cancer, Valdivielso told the court.

Prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison sentence for Fuentes and the four other defendants for a “crime against public health” following a 2006 police investigation into doping known as “Operacion Puerto,” or Operation Mountain Pass. Police found 200 blood bags in apartments in Madrid. Riders testified the blood was often extracted and transfused in hotel rooms, sometimes at races.

The riders sought to get a performance boost by increasing their bodies’ volume of oxygen-carrying red blood cells that boost stamina.

Judge Patricia Santamaria is scheduled to make a ruling in the case next month, a court official said by telephone yesterday. At the same time, the official said, she will rule on a request by the World Anti-Doping Agency and cycling’s ruling body Union Cycliste Internationale to release the blood bags. WADA and the UCI aim to take disciplinary proceedings against athletes who have yet to face sanctions.

‘Public Health’

The lawyer of Manolo Saiz, another defendant who was manager of the Liberty Seguros team, said the trial shouldn’t be about what some see as a “golden opportunity to clean Spanish sport” amid criticism it has tolerated doping.

“This isn’t a trial of Spanish sport but a trial about public health,” Saiz’s attorney, Ignacio Arroyo, told the court.

Saiz wasn’t involved in doping and was carrying 42,000 euros ($53,800) in a briefcase to pay team staff when he met with Fuentes in 2006, Arroyo said.

The trial began on Jan. 28 and has heard testimony from cyclists including Spain’s Manzano, who is seeking 180,000 euros in damages, and former American rider Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton testified by video link that a former mountain-bike rider who worked with Fuentes performed a blood transfusion on him in a hotel room during the 2002 Tour de France.

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