Italians rally around Franco Pellizotti

The Italian cycling community is rallying around Franco Pellizotti, who was cleared of doping allegations by the national anti-doping tribunal on Thursday.

The Italian cycling community is rallying around Franco Pellizotti, who was cleared of doping allegations by the national anti-doping tribunal on Thursday.

Pellizotti was facing two-year racing ban based on evidence gleaned from the UCI’s biological passport, but the Italian authorities ruled there was not sufficient evidence to hand down a ban.

The Italian professional cycling association (ACCPI) countered with a strong statement saying that the biological passport alone should not be used to determine racing bans.

“The biological passport should not be used as a punitive instrument,” the ACCPI said in a statement. “The ‘caso Pellizotti’ confirms what the (ACCPI) has always maintained: the biological passport is an effective weapon against doping if it is used as a tool of inquiry, investigation, but not alone as a coercive instrument, as the only proof to ban an athlete.”

Pellizotti was suspended in May for irregularities cited in his biological passport numbers that could have suggested manipulation.

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

Liquigas officials said Pellizotti will be welcomed back to the team, which always had supported its breakout star who was third overall in the 2009 Giro and won the King of the Mountain’s jersey that year at the Tour de France.

Paolo del Lago, president of Liquigas, said it supports the biological passport, but suggested the UCI “got it wrong” with Pellizotti and called for more discretion when trying to apply bans solely based on the interpretative data.

Pellizotti, meanwhile, suggested he will consider legal action against the UCI.

“I lost an entire season due to this,” he said. “The UCI is always ready for a legal fight, now I am, too.”

UCI officials said Thursday it would wait to see the final report from the Italians before considering an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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.

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 based on evidence from the biological passport.

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.