Former Volta a Portugal winner Amaro Antunes has become the eighth rider of the W52-FC Porto team to be suspended by the UCI for doping offences.
The 32-year-old was given a four-year ban from cycling for ‘use of prohibited methods and/or substances’. His 2021 Volta win has been rescinded along with other results at the race in 2015 and 2016, along with several other race results.
His fifth place and stage win at the 2017 Volta ao Algarve is among the other results to be stripped. However, he is set to keep his 2020 title as well as his 2017 win, the latter inherited from teammate Raúl Alarcón, who was suspended for doping in 2021 and stripped of the 2017 and 2018 Volta titles.
Antunes, who rode for CCC in 2018 and 2019, had already announced his retirement from the sport but was handed a provisional suspension in early February which has now been upgraded.
He follows the majority of the 2022 W52-FC Porto squad in receiving some form of doping ban, with the suspensions handed down resulting from the long-running police investigation, Operação Prova Limpa.
The team had previously been the most successful in the country, winning nine editions of the Volta a Portugal in a row from 2013 to 2021 before Antunes and Alarcón were stripped of three of those titles.
Last April, team properties were raided by police as part of Prova Limpa, with syringes, pills, and transfusion equipment turned up in the search. In July the UCI and the Portuguese Cycling Federation (FPC) stepped in to ban them from competing.
Four months later, seven of their riders were handed multi-year bans by the UCI and the Portuguese Anti-Doping Authority (ADOP) for a range of offences, with one year subsequently wiped from each suspension after the riders confessed to the charges facing them.
- João Rodrigues, 2019 Volta winner – banned by the UCI & ADOP for a total of seven years for use and possession of prohibited methods and/or substances
- Ricardo Mestre, 2011 Volta winner – banned by ADOP for three years for possession of Somatropine
- Rui Vinhas, 2016 Volta winner – banned by ADOP for three years for possession of Betamethasone
- Daniel Mestre – banned by ADOP for three years for possession of Betamethasone
- Ricardo Vilela – banned by ADOP for three years for possession of multiple illegal substances
- Samuel Caldeira – banned by ADOP for three years for possession of multiple illegal substances
- José Neves – banned by ADOP for three years for possession of Human Growth Hormone
Three other riders at W52 in 2022 – Joni Brandão, José Gonçalves, and Jorge Magalhães – were provisionally suspended along with the rest of the team in July, though they are free to compete as of the end of last year, having not faced any further charges since.
All three, however, are among a swathe of the W52 team facing criminal charges (opens in new tab) relating to Prova Limpa and the trafficking and administration of prohibited substances and methods.
Also among the 26 defendants are the seven previously suspended W52 riders, as well as the team’s manager Adriano Quintanilha, general director Hugo Veloso, directeurs sportifs Nuno Ribeiro and José Rodrigues, and mechanic Nelson Rocha.
Former riders Daniel Freitas (banned as part of Prova Limpa for three years for possession of a prohibited method) and Hugo Sancho (banned for four years for biological passport irregularities) are also involved.
With three titles at Portugal’s biggest event now having been stripped from Alarcón and Antunes in 2017, 2018, and 2021, the question now surrounds where the titles will end up, or if they will be re-awarded at all.
The UCI handed first place in 2017 and 2018 to Antunes and Brandão, though the FPC has never confirmed those results, said Federation president Delmino Pereira.
“We are considering the best way to defend the good name of the Volta a Portugal,” he told Bola Branca (opens in new tab). “That’s why it’s possible that, in some editions, due to the number of cases, titles will not be awarded.
“We never homologated those results, even though the UCI rectified the classifications,” he said of 2017 and 2018. “It’s something that we’ll evaluate at the right time when we have all the information.”
Regardless of the decision taken over those three titles, Ricardo Mestre, Vinhas, Rodrigues and Antunes are set to keep their 2011, 2016, 2019, and 2020 Volta victories, with their suspensions applying to other time periods.
Pereira said that the FPC is committed to change in the interest of the next generation of cyclists coming through.
“One generation cannot destroy another,” he said, referring to Prova Limpa and its aftermath. “We have a lot of young people, great talents, who have a right to their profession and their future. That is why we are committed to overcoming this difficult moment.
“It’s important to understand that intensification in testing can lead to new cases, but it’s a risk that we have no problem in taking.
“We were the first country in the world to implement biological passport testing in UCI Continental teams. Measures of this dimension can lead to uncovering positive tests, but the moment demands zero tolerance. There are problems but we are solving them.”