Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It’s not about the Blood! Operacion Puerto and the end of modernity.

I am going to start posting excerpts of my work on Operacion Puerto here. Not the complete stuff but bits. Some of this has already appeared in Spanish in the Journal NÓMADAS. 26 | Enero-Junio.2010 (II)Revista Crítica de Ciencias Sociales y Jurídicas | Critical Review of Social and Juridical Sciences

It will also appear soon in an anthology on Doping and Legal Rights.

The First Installment:

It’s not about the Blood!

Operacion Puerto and the end of modernity.

"This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
Il Gatopardo or The Leopard.

“In the history of cycle sport, fabrications crowded out facts from the very outset.”
Benjo Maso

[The introductory two parts have been cut out - straight to the nitty gritty]

Operacion Puerto – It’s Not About the Blood.

Operacion Puerto (Operation Mountain Pass), is the name given to a criminal investigation conducted by the Spanish Guardia Civil and it encapsulates the manner in which the reality of the material processes occurring have become hidden and confused by the media crisis (for some academic comment on Puerto see: Pottgiesser 2007, Lippi 2008, Strulik 2008, Hardie 2007, Rebeggiani 2008, Lippi 2007, Rosen 2008, Atkinson and Young 2008, Moller 2008). The manner in which the Puerto drama has been dragged out and portrayed in the media and by many in positions of power within cycling brings into stark view the situation that Moller describes concerning trial by media. For administrators and policy makers, their aims - good administration and the making of good policy - appears at times to have taken second position behind a perceived need to engage in the sustaining of an ill-informed and self interested slanging match which seeks to denigrate and override the niceties of the mechanisms of modernist justice. Rather than being a simple black and white question as it is generally portrayed, polarised around the binaries of 'clean' and dirty, or 'fair play' and 'cheating', what Puerto reveals is that the issue is one of critical complexity where the public stances and the media's portrayal of the situation belie the forces and movements at play as cycling’s helmsmen seek to transform it into a global commodity of the society of the spectacle. Puerto reveals a space of critical opalescence, where rumour, suspicion, media, law and politics all converge into a media constructed zone of indistinction (Galison 2003, Agamben 1998, Agamben 2005, Hardie 2007). Puerto reveals a space where the global system in construction pushes forth, utilising the tools of the exception, functionality, spectacle and just war to over determine modernist values and law. It characterises as a hindrance, as tardy, as dysfunctional, as an outdated formality, the grand institution of modern Spanish justice.

In May 2006, the Spanish daily newspaper, El Pais published a series of stories concerning the Guardia Civil investigation of a network involved in the medical preparation of a number of professional cyclists and other athletes (Arribas 2006 Arribas, Hardie 2009). At the centre of the storm was the Madrid based gynaecologist, Dr Eufemiano Fuentes. It is history now that the reporting of El Pais subsequently sent the cycling world into turmoil as the extent of Dr Fuentes' preparation programs were revealed and the affair quickly took on a life of its own. At first the focus was on the Spanish team, Liberty Seguros, with the title sponsor quickly withdrawing their financial support. The riders of the Manolo Saiz directed team had to cover up their sponsors name with tape as they raced the 2006 Giro d’Italia (Tan 2006, Hood 2006). Almost immediately other names began to emerge, such as Ullrich and Basso, not only subsequently calling into doubt their performances in that edition of the Giro, but also cutting that year’s Tour de France favourite list to shreds (Cyclingnews 2006).

The media's focus since that time has been on the cyclists involved and how they should be punished. This has also been the main focus of the UCI – constantly calling for the riders to be disciplined in a manner which, deliberately or not, misunderstands what Puerto, as a criminal and judicial process, is all about. This line of attack is not only reserved for the media. Senior officials of both the UCI and WADA do nothing to shed light on the complexity of the situation (Stokes 2009, Hood 2009, Cyclingnews 2009b). But to begin to understand Puerto one needs to consider why in the first place the police had been engaged in the surveillance of Fuentes, Saiz and others.

By piecing together the documents it appears that this surveillance seems to have emerged out of the intersection of two seemingly unrelated concerns for Spain. The first was the ongoing investigation by the Spanish Guardia Civil into the importation of prohibited medicines such as Insulin Growth Factor 1 (IG-F1) from Australia in Operacion Mamut (Mammoth) (Guardia Civil 2004). Mamut had uncovered a network of importation and distribution of IG-F1 from an Australian company, Gropep. That company, which is based in Adelaide, South Australia, was originally funded by an Australian governmental authority, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the University of Adelaide. At the time of the investigation Gropep had in fact planned to licence the right to manufacture IG-F1 to the Mamut suspects (Cyclingnews 1998). When the Guardia Civil followed the trail of Gropep’s IG-F1 to and throughout Spain its distribution eventually led them to the doors of Dr Fuentes and his cohorts. In the first instance it was this illegal importation and subsequent supply that the Guardia Civil were interested in cracking. Their interest was not Fuentes, Saiz nor their collaborators, even more clearly it was not the cyclists involved. However the fact of the matter was that it was the trail of IG-F1 from Adelaide that led the Guardia Civil to Fuentes and his collaborators.

During the course of the Mamut investigation the Guardia Civil became aware of the declarations of the ex-Kelme cyclist, Jesus Manzano, which had been published in the Spanish sports daily, AS (AS 2004, Bose 2004). Manzano set out in great detail the system of rider preparation that existed within his former team, Kelme – Communidad Valenciana. This system, Manzano claims, was driven not by the individual cyclists but those that managed and ran the team. Included amongst those were the team's various Director Sportifs, including the principal Director, Vicente Belda. Belda now stands charged alongside Fuentes and Saiz in the Puerto process.

In late 2005 the Mamut investigation intersected by chance with the disaster that arose for Spanish cycling after Roberto Heras's 2005 Vuelta a España positive test for EPO (El Pais 2005a, El Pais 2005b, 2006b). The repercussions for Unipublic, the race's organisers, other sponsors and the Spanish state were enormous. For a complex array of reasons, Spanish cycling was in real crisis following the Heras positive. The Grand Tours have always played a role in marking out and defining a territory, a nation and its people. In that respect, the Tours were as much a part of creating the Europe of the twentieth century as was the documentation and administration of life that Michele Foucault so very well describes in his lectures entitled 'Society Must be Defended'. The people, customs, fetes, fairs and fiestas each day, complete with the local version of cheese, chorizo and champagne, are always a part of the backdrop of the Tours but they have been steadfastly created and maintained by an alliance of the state, industrial capital and the media. With its resumption after the Civil War in 1941, Spain's La Vuelta covered the longest route in its history demarcating the victor's territory across the country and particularly the former Republican strongholds. For some years it was restricted by Franco to only Spanish participants. In modernity these races all played their role in reinforcing the status of a unified territory, a people, a nation and its capital. It must be in this broad light, the years of the American domination of the Tour de France and the sale of Unipublic to the Tour de France owners ASO, that the positive of Heras must be read.

At the end of the 2005 Vuelta Heras was the only real Spanish option to conquer the Grand Tours in a post-Armstrong 2.0 world and he was in disgrace. The loss to Unipublic as a result of the positive of Heras drew into focus the perceived problem of doping in Spain and the alleged attitude of impunity that existed there (Cyclingnews 2006). It may be possible to speculate that it was also this loss of credibility, both in the public eye and in terms of possible future sponsorship and television coverage, which drew the hunt of the Guardia closer to Fuentes.

The evidence given by Liberty Seguros Director Sportif Manolo Saiz when he was detained by the Guardia Civil provides some insight into both how the Vuelta disaster came to be and how the Liberty team became entangled in the ongoing investigation into importation. Saiz had been under video surveillance by the Guardia Civil and was arrested with a bag of cash to allegedly pay his team's outstanding account with Fuentes. The cash was in the mixed denominations of Euros, Swiss Francs and Australian Dollars. The Dollars supposedly being money left over from the team’s per diems paid to them by the organisers of the Tour Down under in Adelaide earlier that year. Saiz has had a long history in professional cycling but unlike most other team directors he was never a professional cyclist. Nevertheless his contacts extend far and wide throughout the cycling world and he has been for many years one of the most successful and complete Director Sportifs. Saiz was the mentor or, at least, inspiration for Lance Armstrong's Director Sportif, Johan Bruyneel, who rode and served his cycling apprenticeship with Saiz during the 1990s. Saiz also has close connections with ex-Australian professionals and cycling powerbrokers such as Neil Stephens and Stephen Hodge. In Spain his followers and contacts are known collectively as the ‘Manolo-istas” and they are anecdotally regarded as being closely linked to those that broker the power behind the UCI. It is of no surprise then that Saiz was also significantly a prime mover, along with former International Cycling Union (UCI) President Hein Verbruggen and his protégé Alain Rumpf, in the creation of the Pro Tour model adopted by the UCI.

When he was interviewed in detention, Saiz said that he had known Fuentes since his stint with ONCE in the early 1990s, a time when his team was populated by a number of high profile riders many of whom are still involved in the sport as administrators or Directors Sportif. Saiz said that after Fuentes left the team they had occasional personal contact but that it was, in 2004, with his signing of Roberto Heras, that the relationship recommenced on a more than friendly level. Saiz said that, on his arrival at Liberty from the US Postal Service team (USPS), Heras had asked that he be able to have Fuentes, as his personal doctor. According to Saiz, Heras wanted to deal directly with Fuentes. At first Saiz had refused the request, as it didn't seem to him to be the best way to manage the team. After much insistence on the part of Heras, Saiz gave in, but it seems that he decided to try and manage the relationship as best he could. Saiz was insistent in his evidence that it was Heras and other riders in his team, some of whom had also previously been in Kelme that pushed for the Fuentes connection. There of course was no love lost between Saiz and Kelme's Director Sportif Vicente Belda. During the previous years Saiz had been instrumental for pushing through the Pro Tour and Kelme's exclusion from it. This exclusion had in part been brought about by Saiz and others insistence that Kelme was still engaged in cycling's old ways (Hardie 2004, Bike Radar 2004).

With the 2005 Vuelta positive of Heras the Guardia Civil appear to have put two and two together and followed the leads to see if there was any link between the substances being used by cyclists and their investigation of importation and distribution in Operacion Mamut. This of course was not the only event that had led them to the consulting rooms of Fuentes. The year before the Vuelta had been hit by two positive doping tests for blood transfusions. The first to break was that of Tyler Hamilton, another ex USPS rider, who tested positive following his September 11 time trial victory, over his soon to be again teammate, Floyd Landis, in Valencia (Jones 2004, Hardie 2004a, Hardie 2004b). The second involved, the post-race revelations concerning Hamilton's teammate, Santi Perez (Abt 2004). On the road Phonak was managed by ex-Kelme Director Sportif, Alvaro Pino (Maloney 2006). The files also suggest another link from Hamilton to his friend "Nick" and "Nick's friend". This little mystery has not received the attention that the reference to "Valv Piti" has received by the cycling world. And of course, seemingly outside of the Fuentes affair, the next doping incident to really rock cycling was that of another ex-USPS rider, Floyd Landis ( 2006c, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2006, Walsh 2007 Ballester & Walsh 2006, Velocity Nation 2009b). These events involving Heras, Hamilton and Perez drew the Guardia Civil closer and closer to their stakeout of Fuentes.

More soon!

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