Franco Pellizotti has been absolved of doping allegations Thursday by Italian anti-doping authorities in what could be a major setback for the UCI’s biological passport.

Pellizotti putting the hurt on the peloton in stage 14 of the 2009 Giro. Photo: Graham Watson (file)
Pellizotti said he's ready to get back to racing. | Photo: Graham Watson (file)

Pellizotti, the curly-haired blonde climber from Liquigas, was called out last spring by the UCI for what it called irregularities in his biological passport numbers that could have suggested manipulation. The Itlaian was sidelined from action since May while he challenged the determination made by a panel of experts that evaluates the ground-breaking biological passport controls.

On Thursday, officials from the Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA) ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to ban Pellizotti.

“A sufficiently level of probability of guilt was not established. The court absolves the rider of the charges against him,” the court said in its decision. The panel also fined the UCI some 5,000 euros in court costs in a ruling revealed on its Web page Thursday.

Since it was introduced in 2008, the UCI has effectively used evidence from the passport program to target riders and nab them in traditional doping controls, but efforts to hand down racing bans from indicators in the biological passport have been met with controversy.

A panel of experts reviews indicators taken from samples that might suggest manipulation and the practice of banned, but hard-to-prove blood transfusions.

In September, Slovenian officials similarly overturned a racing ban against Tadej Valjavec, marking the second challenge to the UCI’s effort to use data collected during its biological passport controls to issue racing bans.

The UCI told the AFP that it will wait to see the complete Pellizotti ruling before deciding whether it will appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Pellizotti now is technically cleared to resume racing, though the 2010 racing season is officially over. He hinted he make take legal action against the UCI.

“This is a very important victory for me as a cyclist and as a man,” Pellizotti said. “I’ve had five months with this over my head and now I cannot wait to get back to racing.”

Lawyers representing Pellizotti argued that the biological passport is not “reliable” and said that there were only two tests that were suspicious out of 22 samples dating back to 2008. The court agreed that was not enough evidence to reveal possible blood manipulation.

Italian officials earlier this year did back the UCI and handed down racing bans against Francesco De Bonis and Pietro Caucchioli.