Eufemiano Fuentes, Jesus Manzano, Operaciõn Puerto, Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador… and now Manuel Beltran. All Spanish, all hot topics – but what’s the buzz in España?
We turned to VeloVeritas Iberian correspondent Al Hamilton for the low down, and asked him some questions on just what the current Spanish perspective is.
Tell us a little about the Spanish press, are there Sun/Mail/Mirror equivalents?
“No not really, if you want to read about sport you buy one of the Sports Dailies, like AS, Marca, Super etc. The “normal” papers do print sports stuff, but if you want to know the full story you get Marca or AS.
“At the moment you will be looking at maybe five pages on the Tour, with the full result and how the Spanish riders are doing, then when they hit the mountains there will be more, with lots of interviews, it’s a big coverage and obviously when La Vuelta is on there is more, even though the football season will have started by then.
“Indurain has a daily article during the big races in Marca, but my favorite is AS, there is always a scantily clad young lady on the back cover!”
Was Operaciõn Puerto on TV much when it broke?
“Yes – when it broke, sure. Remember this was a covert operation by a specialist Guardia Civil department. Phone taps, spy photography and all that that entails.
“It was big at the time, big name sports men and women were involved and Dr Fuentes had been mentioned before with things that were going on at Kelme, so he was a marked man, you might say.”
Have the media tired of Puerto now, is that why it has ‘faded away’?
“They are fairly tired of it, but the case is shut, then the UCI call for it to be re-opened, then WADA call for it to be re-opened, then CAS shelve it. If this was a case of shoplifting it would have been thrown out a long time ago.”
And do the Spanish public care?
What about the ‘other sports’ involved in Puerto: soccer, tennis?
“Well most people know who was implicated, a famous tennis player, a famous pole vaulter, a female long distance runner, and the biggest of them all, Real Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and Seville football players.
“What has happened to them? Nothing! The pole vaulter I think has been banned, but the others, nothing. As for the footballers; in the words of one of the judges on the case “you can’t touch the gods!”
Alejandro Valverde – do the Spanish public and media believe or care if he’s implicated?
“This is a long running saga, no one talks about it, but if it comes to light that the blood bags are his then, yes it will be front page news.
“Of the non-sports papers, El Pais is the one that like to investigate things and they tend to be the first to go to print.”
Bert Contador, same question – do the Spanish public and media believe or care if he’s implicated?
“I think it’s the same, if nothing can be proved then he should be racing and until he is guilty then he is innocent.
“I think more people believe in Contador than in Valverde, but then nobody knows for sure, except the rider.”
What’s the public and media view on Contador’s exclusion from le Tour?
“Most people think he has been used as a scapegoat by the French (ie. the Tour organisers ASO) against Lance Armstrong and now Bryneel.
“Contador has had some bad luck, and he is a very good rider. How many non French riders does the Tour have to ban before they get a French winner 20, 30? Contador won the Giro and maybe he will win La Vuelta, so who needs the Tour?”
Has the popularity of the sport suffered as a consequence of Puerto?
“I don’t think Puerto is solely to blame for any down-turn in popularity. If it is less popular, its been the drug scandals in general, not just Puerto.
“Cycling is still very popular, I read in some (British) magazines and web-sites that La Vuelta España is dying on its arse! But these magazines often don’t even send a journalist; they base this on what they see on TV, long stretches of road with no fans.
“Spain is a big country, over 6 times bigger than GB, but the population is 15 million less and in between the towns there are no people. So what do you expect? The big teams do want to ride the race and the riders want to win it.”
It used to be that soccer was the most popular sport in Spain with cycling and bull fighting more-or-less equal second, how now?
“Football is still the biggest, but cycling is fighting with all the sports that Spain is now good at: basketball; Formula 1; MotoGP and Superbikes; and of course tennis.
“Even 10 years ago there was no Spanish interest in any of these sports, now they are some of the best -if not world champions. At the moment it’s San Fermin, the running of the bulls in Pamplona. It gets live TV coverage and many re-showings, that’s not bull fighting, but bull fighting is shown a lot.
“In any case, the tour is on every day live with Perico Delgado helping with the commentary – he is still popular enough to appear in TV adverts for car insurance. On every national TV newscast at lunchtime and in the evening they have a report on the Tour, even on the rest day.”
A lot of Spanish pros had to ‘get a job’ or ride for low budget Portuguese teams this year – how much was Puerto to blame for that?
“Maybe, or it could be that there are so many pros all over the world looking for a job. Is that because of Puerto? Or a world recession? There are a lot of races in Portugal, it’s hard and fast and there is money to be made and for many Spanish riders it’s not too far away.
“The Tour of Portugal is enormous, my wife’s cousin is LA, behind the LA Aluminios team in Portugal and they have sections for armatures, sportifs, juniors and school kids. It’s a big set up, and the Portuguese scene is big, so its not much of a step down, and it has been a move that has saved a lot of riders’ careers.”
How/why did Sevilla and Mancebo get clobbered in Puerto and others didn’t?
“Did they get clobbered? Sevilla was second in the Spanish National champs the other week, so he is still racing, maybe not at the top level but I’m sure he makes a wage. Mancebo? I’m not sure what’s going on with him.”
And Beltran; what are the media saying?
“It’s been a shock for sure – Beltran was well liked and was always a good rider. He has some good wins behind him. His nickname, “Triki” comes from the kids program Bario Sesamo; you know it as Sesame Street.
“There are questions being asked, like is this a French thing? Is this an ASO vs. ex Armstrong thing? Or is it something he has been up to for a while and has now been caught? We will know more soon I guess as he has been helping the French police with their enquiries.”
“I don’t have crystal balls! as the gypsy said the milk maid.
“The word is that there are a few riders that have been “flagged” as suspicious, so they will be watching them. Are they Spanish? There is no reason why they won’t be Belgian or French or from wherever.
“Anyway – why Spanish? Scotland doesn’t have a very good record, at the moment there is one Scottish rider at the Tour and he was convicted and served his ban for EPO use, so the Daily Record or Scottish Sun could have the head line ‘Scottish 100% Dope Record in Tour!'”
Lastly Al, anything you’d like to get off your chest or make us aware of?
“Ranting is good for the system, just ask Viktor!
“How many Spanish riders have been guilty? What about Hamilton, Landis, Ulrich and Pantani and all the others who are not Spanish? Puerto was big, but don’t forget all the Italian sports doctors that have been discredited, the Germans are not clean, and it goes on everywhere, but look who busted it open in Spain: the Guardia Civil.
“Racing here is as popular as it always has been, there are other sports that maybe have taken a share of TV, but cycling is very big. Which is the biggest club in Scotland, the Edinburgh Road Club? Well, a club here would have more members, maybe few would ride a bike, but they all want to help at any race or even with a fun ride. There are local cycling schools, the kids practice on empty industrial estates. Clubs are sponsored by the town hall etc., and that’s just around where I live.
“Up in the Basque country it’s totally crazy for cycling, just look at the Tour in the Pyrenees, those orange T-shirts are not Dutch. You talk to anyone about cycling, old women anyone and they will be able to tell you something, it’s in their blood!
“DFL and Flanders (and other Pro teams) have ridden the Tour of Llieda, which is what we used to call an armature stage race. They were “Pro” teams that people in GB would look up too, but they did nothing at Llieda, not many of them finished, and they were racing against young Spanish armatures, so that puts the sport in Spain into perspective.
“OK. Rant over!”
Thanks Al! For those readers who want to know more, cyclingnews.com has comprehensive coverage of Operaciõn Puerto here.