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By Andrew Hood
VeloNews European correspondent

This report filed May 25, 2006

[SIZE=-1]The after-shocks from the so-called "Operación Puerto" that rocked Spanish cycling in the wake of the arrests of Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz and sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and three others are already rippling through cycling. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]Liberty Seguros announced Thursday it's immediately ending its multi-million-dollar sponsorship with the ProTour team while Spanish authorities are reporting that as many as 200 riders and athletes could be implicated in a widespread doping network. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]"The implications of Manolo Saiz´s detention are highly alarming: they damage our name and cycling's name," a company statement read Thursday. "We have cancelled our agreement with the owners of the team (Active Bay) and will respect outstanding financial obligations." [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]The Boston-based insurance giant entered cycling with a flourish in 2004 and stood steadfastly alongside the team despite the EPO doping scandal of team captain Roberto Heras in last year's Vuelta a España. The company insisted on a zero-tolerance policy to continue with its sponsorship deal estimated to be worth $8.5 million per year, about 80 percent of the team's total budget. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]News that Saiz was caught red-handed with a refrigerated bag containing frozen blood and €60,000 in cash proved too much for the American sponsor. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]"As sponsors, we have always wanted to promote a culture of fair play and zero-tolerance with respect to doping," the statement read. "In November 2005 after the suspension of a rider (Roberto Heras) for doping we made our contract one of the most rigorous with regard to this subject." [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]The immediate implications of the sponsorship withdrawal are already being felt. Racing at the Giro d'Italia, the team vowed to push through the race. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]Team sport director Marino Lejarreta told Italian TV the news was "bad for our team but we will try to finish the Giro" while Giampaolo Caruso, 14th overall, said Saiz' arrest was a shock and that "Saiz is like a father to me." [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]The fallout could huge impact on riders, including Tour de France favorite Alexandre Vinokourov. L'Equipe reported that the Kazakh rider, third overall in the 2003 Tour, said that he would race the Tour one way or another, with Liberty Seguros or another team. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]The center of scandal is a three-month investigation by Spain's anti-doping brigade which includes wire taps and video surveillance of Fuentes and other associates. Others detained included Comunitat Valenciana assistant directeur sportif Ignacio Labarta, José Luis Merino, director of a Madrid blood transfusion center, and former pro mountain biker Alberto Leon. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]Authorities raided four apartments Tuesday and claim to have found 200 packages of blood as well as thousands of doses of human-growth hormones, EPO and anabolic steroids that included codes to indicate which rider should receive the injections. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]El Pais reported Thursday that as many as 200 riders could be implicated. One of them, T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich, has denied reports on Spain's Cadena SER radio that he has worked with fuentes [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]"Cycling is not dirty," Ullrich said in an interview with the station earlier this week. "There are some doping cases because cycling is hard. It's too bad." [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]Spanish authorities said the investigations will be exhaustive and on-going until the full scope of network is revealed. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]It already has the whiff of what could be the worst doping scandal in cycling since the Festina Affaire in 1998.

[SIZE=-1]With the news that Liberty Seguros pulled the plug on the team, it was unclear on whether the team would continue to race the Giro, and if they did, would they be racing in Liberty Seguros jerseys. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]Liberty Seguros sport director Neil Stephens insisted the team would continue in the Giro with only three days left. Of course, Stephens is quite familiar with the disruption scandals can create on a team. He was a member of the infamous 1998 Festina squad that was ultimately thrown out of that year's Tour de France. Stephens retired from the peloton after the scandal. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]"We will continue here and we will go to the Tour and (Alexandre) Vinokourov will ride it for us," Stephens said after the stage. "The team structure will continue." [/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1] ______________________________________________________________________________________________________ says the cancellation is IMMEDIATE! So I wonder if the team will ne a new sponsor for the TDF and rest of the season.

If Basso, Jan and the rumor of 200 riders is true, it's a sad, sda day for cycling. But like baseball in the states it should be fine. It will just be sad to see riders you love cheating. :(

Basso, PLEASE tell me you innocent!!
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