MADRID (AP) — A former cycling team director told a Spanish court Friday that he had allowed four-time Spanish Vuelta winner Roberto Heras and other riders to contact Eufemanio Fuentes, the doctor at the center of the Operation Puerto blood-doping case.
Manolo Saiz, former director of the ONCE and Liberty Seguros team, said on the trial's fourth day that he let Heras, Marcos Serrano Rodriguez and Angel Vicioso Arcos see Fuentes but he "did not want to become a middleman between Fuentes and my team."
"Heras asked me on various occasions to go to doctor Fuentes," Saiz told the court. "I told him that he could not see anyone outside the team, but after he insisted I agreed. With Serrano and Vicioso the same thing happened. I accepted and from that moment on I don't know anything, whether they established a relationship or not.
"I never contacted Fuentes. I didn't know about the practices of Dr. Fuentes nor of any other doctor that wasn't on my team." After winning the Vuelta in 2000, 2003 and 2004, Heras tested positive for the banned blood-booster EPO en route to winning the 2005 race while riding for Liberty Seguros.
He was later cleared of the ban by a lower court because of irregularities in the investigation. Last December, Heras was reinstated as the 2005 winner after Spain's Supreme Court upheld the decision.
Heras is also a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, who has admitted to doping and been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. Saiz and Fuentes are among five defendants charged with endangering public health. Spanish law didn't penalize doping practices in 2006 when the police began their investigation.
No cyclists are on trial. Heras is not scheduled to testify but Serrano and Vicioso are among 35 witnesses called to testify before the trial ends on March 22. Judge Julia Santamaria said Friday that American cyclist Tyler Hamilton would give testimony on Feb. 19 by videoconference from the United States. Hamilton is another former teammate of Armstrong. His tell-all interview on "60 Minutes" in 2011, combined with his testimony and a book he wrote last year, played a key part in Armstrong's downfall.
Two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, who was stripped of a third title after testing positive for a banned substance, will testify at a date still to be announced. On Tuesday, Fuentes testified that he "did physical and medical tests to guarantee (the athletes') health," including extracting red blood cells that are later reinjected to boost stamina and performance.
Defendant Vicente Belda, former director Kelme team, also took the stand on Friday. Belda confirmed Fuentes' own admission from Tuesday that the doctor had clients from sports other than cycling, including tennis, football, and boxing.
"Who hadn't heard of Fuentes?" Belda told the court. "The word on the street was that Fuentes treated cyclists and other kinds of athletes, that he practiced (blood) extractions and all that. "I, logically, didn't know anything."
Belda said that he had a "friendship" with Fuentes, not a "working relationship." Jesus Manzano, one of the plaintiffs, is a retired cyclist who turned whistleblower after suffering medical problems that he has repeatedly said were caused by doping practices he was submitted to by Fuentes while riding for team Kelme.
The trial's limited scope on just cycling is a point of frustration for anti-doping watchdogs like the World Anti-doping Agency. Judge Santamaria said on Tuesday that she would consider written applications from prosecution and plaintiffs about what to do with scores of blood bags seized by police but not used as evidence in the Puerto case.
The other two defendants are Fuentes' sister and fellow doctor Yolanda Fuentes and former Kelme team director Ignacio Labarta. The defendants face two years of prison time if found guilty.