Frank Schleck suspended after admitting funds transfer

Updated: October 3, 2008, 4:06 PM ET
Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Cyclist Frank Schleck was provisionally suspended by his team Friday after admitting he transferred money to a Swiss bank account held by a Spanish doctor at the center of a major doping scandal.

Ford's take on Schleck

Even in an age where convoluted confessions have become fashionable in cycling, this one is a head-scratcher. Luxembourg's Franck Schleck is said to have blithely transferred $10,000 to a Swiss bank account registered to Spanish doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in early 2006 without knowing who Fuentes was or exactly how the investment would help his career. Then -- oh gosh -- a couple of months later, when the Operation Puerto scandal broke in Spain, Scheck realized he had blundered into the axis of evil.

If Schleck had nothing to hide, why not tell his team at the time instead of waiting for an interrogation by anti-doping authorities 2½ years later? Perhaps Schleck could have cooperated with Puerto investigators by shedding light on how Fuentes and his middlemen induced innocent and apparently free-spending cyclists to hand over their Euros on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Schleck, quite properly, has been suspended by the CSC-Saxo Bank team, and has offered to undergo DNA testing to prove that none of the blood evidence seized in Fuentes clinic was his. But even if Schleck didn't actually ship vital fluids to Fuentes, it's hard to see how his actions differ materially from suspended former CSC and Discovery Channel star Ivan Basso, who copped to the "intention to dope" after many months of denial.

We're once again reminded that outside investigation is just as effective, if not more so, in fingering suspects than actual drug testing. Left unanswered is why it took authorities from Schleck's native country this long to go after the rider, who led the 2008 Tour de France for several days.

Operation Puerto continues to play out in dribs and drabs like a recurring scene from a B horror movie. People keep stumbling on the same basement refrigerator, opening the door, and screaming when the same mutilated corpse is revealed.

Schleck and team director Bjarne Riis deserve hard questioning, but the harshest criticism should be reserved for Spanish authorities, who persist in trying to padlock the aforementioned fridge and haul it off to the dump. The "closed" case files should be released to any investigative or sporting body that wants them. Let's not forget that only 50 of the 200 athletes allegedly named in the paperwork were cyclists, yet cycling is the only sport being made to bleed and bleed and bleed.

-- Bonnie D. Ford

The Luxembourg rider appeared before his country's anti-doping agency Wednesday for a hearing into his alleged involvement in Spain's Operation Puerto doping scandal.

Danish team CSC Saxo Bank said Schleck transferred the money to the account of Eufemiano Fuentes in March 2006 "to receive training advice by experts who presumably worked with some of the biggest names in the sport."

Schleck admitted making "a serious blunder" and deeply regretted the contact with "these people," the team said.

However, he denied having direct contact with Fuentes and reiterated his claim that he never engaged in doping.

Team manager Bjarne Riis said Schleck would be suspended from racing for the team "until we have had the chance to evaluate the outcome of this."

Schleck, who wore the yellow jersey for three days during this yea's Tour de France, told the agency that he had not taken any drugs or done anything illegal.

A German prosecutor claims Schleck paid almost $9,850 into a Swiss bank account held by Fuentes, who is at the center of the Puerto case.

The rider told CSC Saxo Bank and the anti-doping agency that "he has never received, nor made use of any services from these people, including Eufemiano Fuentes, whom he has never met," according to the team statement.

"We were very disappointed to hear that Frank has been in contact with people who have done great harm to the sport and ruthlessly tarnished the most important principles that we all should adhere to in the fight against doping," Riis said.

"His behavior has been irresponsible toward himself and his team," added Riis, who last year admitted that he used EPO to win the 1996 Tour.

Operation Puerto, cycling's biggest doping investigation, was set off by Spanish civil guard raids at clinics in Madrid and Zaragoza in May 2006 that turned up steroids, hormones and the endurance-boosting substance EPO, nearly 100 bags of frozen blood, and equipment for treating blood.

Over 50 cyclists, including 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, 2006 Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso and 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich, were reportedly linked to the scandal.

World cycling's governing body UCI said there was no evidence so far against Schleck and did not stop him from competing at last week's world championship in Varese, Italy.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press