As if the last week in cycling has not been turbulent enough, with Spanish rider Alberto Contador's ban for two years and a federal investigation into Lance Armstrong's former team being dropped, Germany's 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich was yesterday given a two-year suspension for blood doping.
The ban, issued by sport's highest court – the Court of Arbitration for Sport – itself has little practical consequences for the 38-year-old, who officially stopped racing in 2007. However, its conclusions do no favours whatsoever to Ullrich's image, given he has categorically denied doping in his career.
CAS's verdict is, however, that Ullrich systematically took banned drugs, and was "engaged at least in blood doping and was fully engaged with a doping programme involving Dr Eufemiano Fuentes", a notorious Spanish doctor who was at the centre of the country's biggest ever anti-doping probe, Operacion Puerto, in 2006.
CAS also confirmed widespread suspicions that DNA evidence showed that a blood bag found in Fuentes' offices during the Puerto police raids belonged to Ullrich, a five-time runner up in the Tour as well as the overall winner in 1997. The court also said that the German star had paid Fuentes €80,000 for his services.
"CAS notes with a certain degree of surprise that Ullrich has not challenged the veracity of this evidence or any other cases for the prosecution and has simply limited his defence to procedural arguments," the statement read.
The CAS verdict is the final chapter of a sorry six-year tale in which Ullrich, in apparent self-denial, had steadfastly refused to confirm he doped. This was despite almost all his top team-mates from the former Telekom and T-Mobile squads, including 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, confessing a few years back that they had been using banned drugs.
As a result of the ban, Ullrich loses his 2005 podium place in the Tour, which goes to Spaniard Francisco Mancebo – also implicated, as it happens, in Puerto. He also loses an overall win in the Tour de Suisse, cycling's fourth biggest race.
This latest verdict, on which Ullrich has yet to comment, means only two Tour winners in the last 16 years – Carlos Sastre in 2008 and Cadel Evans in 2011 – have not seen their wins overshadowed by, at the very least, some sort of doping allegations.
Cavendish wins yet another stage in Qatar
Mark Cavendish celebrated yesterday after winning his second victory in three days in the Tour of Qatar. Cavendish, who is still recovering from a bout of fever, won in emphatic style. The overall victory is likely to go to Belgian Tom Boonen for a fourth time, but Cavendish will have a chance for a third victory in today's final stage of the six-day race.