The UCI couldn't stop Valv.Piti, but Eyjafjallajökull did! The Icelandic volcano literally blew its top when accused-doper (convicted in Italy) Alejandro Valverde was inscribed for the start of the Amstel Gold Race in Holland. Pat McQuaid's lament not withstanding, Valv.Piti (18) was going to take to the start of the Ardennes classic, and was a favorite for the win. In fact, just yesterday VeloNews reported:
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) returns to the Ardennes on the hunt for a victory in one of the three classics in the offering. Hot off second place at the Vuelta al País Vasco behind Chris Horner (RadioShack), Valverde says he’s in shape to have a good run through the Ardennes. “I come with a lot of motivation and ambition to get the best possible result, just like every time I race,” Valverde said. “These are three races that I like a lot and they are well adapted to my characteristics, just as I’ve demonstrated in my win at Flèche and two at Liège. This year, I’d like to win one of the three...”
BMC team, which sidelined former World Champion and ex-Lampre rider Alessandro Ballan on the mere suspicion of doping,Valverde's team, Caisse d’Epargne, has seemingly had no issue with continuing to enter their star in as many high-profile events as possible, seeking to maximize their ROI - perhaps before sanity is restored and Valverde is handed a global racing ban.
Apparently, someone at Caisse d'Epargne felt queasy about backing Valverde after his CONI-sanction was upheld, and he was reportedly suspended from competition. Valverde, however, protested that this was not the case, and claimed that he simply had a week-long gap in his racing program, which he filled with family time. The Spaniard explained, “While waiting for a decision about my future and during a week in which no race was in my program, I spent a lot of time with my three sons. We had a great time."
It seemed he was right, and no sooner had Valv.Piti finished playing "Mr. Mom" than he was back to his winning ways, most recently taking two stages and second overall (behind an ageless, or well-prepared Chris Horner) in the Tour of the Basque Country. Oh, by-the-way: Valverde is reported to earn roughly $4million(USD) in salary per year.
Now...we know that doping is a bad thing, and to fail to condemn an athlete convicted of performance-enhancing drug use is to tacitly sanction his behavior. But Pappillon admits to being slightly conflicted about Piti. While one of Valverde's more obscure ex-Kelme teammates fingered him for partaking in that squad's infamous doping practices - explaining to us in great detail how the two were part of one of the most sophisticated systemic doping programs in cycling, the fact remains that Valverde is a brilliant racer who has thus far eluded the dope police and is technically free to compete on his UCI license. Sure, CONI did what the UCI couldn't - or wouldn't - do, and handed Valverde a two-year ban that will keep him off the bike on Italian soil at least until May 2011. And yes, the doping-in-cycling-whistle-blower, Jesús Manzano, testified that Valverde doped with him during their time together at Kelme. The conflict comes from the fact that Valverde just looks like he should be a champion cyclist, and it's a guilty pleasure here that we enjoy watching him ride - even though we imagine he has had to find more creative, and logistically-complex methods of enhancing his performance:
Of course, it's not totally impossible that Valverde is currently competing dope-free, in which case it would be great to know that he'd learnt his lesson. Highly unlikely, but not impossible.
Mother Nature is no longer backing Piti, and she finally accomplished what neither Pat McQuaid and the UCI nor CONI nor the bosses of the Real Federación Espanola de Ciclismo could, or would: keep Alejandro Valverde from contesting a major race. As the Spaniard himself writes on his blog, "¡Contra la naturaleza no se puede luchar!" or roughly, "Against Nature one cannot fight!"
VeloNews briefly explainss this latest development: "Another Amstel contender, Valverde, was forced out late on Saturday when he and two other Caisse d’Epargne teammates, Luis Leon Sanchez and Luis Pasamontes, were unable to fly out of Madrid."