Operation Ilex in detail: The plot that led to the suspension of Miguel Ángel López

Miguel Ángel López has been suspended by the UCI due to his involvement in Operation Ilex, an operation carried out by the Guardia Civil in Spain to dismantle a network dedicated to the illegal distribution of medicine in the province of Cáceres.

This network was also dedicated to the manufacture and sale of prohibited substances destined to top athletes. In addition to Lopez, the cyclist and former sports director Vicente Belda and Vincente Belda Garcia, his son, with a great professional connection with Lopez, were also implicated.

Known as "Operation Ilex", this is an investigation initiated in early 2021 by the Public Health and Doping Section of the Central Operational Unit (UCO) of the Civil Guard. UCO agents received information about the possible illicit distribution of drugs by a licensed physician and managed to identify the members of the group involved in these practices.

During more than a year of monitoring the group's activities, the investigation also revealed the involvement of three people in Portugal, Gipuzkoa and Castellón, who acted as intermediaries between the initial manufacturers and distributors of the prohibited substances and the athletes who consumed them.

According to sources close to the investigation, the end consumers were athletes recruited by individuals closely linked to the world of professional sports. These athletes received the services of a well-known doctor, identified as Marcos Maynar, who was also a professor at the University of Extremadura (UNEX). Maynar had been arrested in May last year on suspicion of illegal drug trafficking, among other crimes.

The athletes subjected to this doping plan were previously evaluated by means of analysis and stress tests carried out in the facilities of the Faculty of Sports Sciences of Extremadura. The doctor and his assistant, a doctor in Exercise Physiology, prepared a training plan that included the use of drugs not authorized in Spain and substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, prior to their participation in official competitions.

The network charged athletes a sum of money, depending on their level and the possibility of winning prizes, which could reach up to 3,000 euros per season. The drugs and prohibited substances were delivered to the athletes through secure channels, using third parties to hide the relationship between doctor and athlete.

The operation has resulted in the arrest of two people accused of drug trafficking and doping in sport, membership of a criminal group and money laundering. Six more people are being investigated in relation to this case. In addition, searches have been carried out in Plasencia (Cáceres) and in the Faculty of Sports Sciences of the UNEX, where several medicines not authorized in Spain and substances prohibited in sport have been seized.

Among the substances seized were Actovegin, Dichloroacetic acid (DCA), Theophylline and the hormone Menotropin, as well as empty capsules prepared for filling with these drugs for subsequent distribution. Menotropin is the substance that is rumoured to have been administered to López only weeks before the 2022 Giro d'Italia, which may have led to the reaction in his hip which then forced him to abandon the race.

The entire investigation has been carried out in close collaboration with the Spanish State Agency Commission for the Fight against Doping in Sport (CELAD), the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS), the International Testing Agency (ITA) and the Catholic University of Murcia (UCAM). These institutions have provided essential technical support and advice for the successful development of the operation.

The Guardia Civil emphasizes that a minor has been identified among the final consumers, which highlights the seriousness of this case and the importance of eradicating illegal doping practices in professional sports. The investigation will continue in order to fully clarify this network of illicit distribution of drugs and banned substances in the world of sport.

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Miguel Ángel López Cycling

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