Franco Pellizotti, the veteran Italian climber who was at the center of a high-profile biological passport ban, has penned a deal to join Bahrain – Merida for 2017.
The 38-year-old Italian will rejoin Vincenzo Nibali (the pair rode together for five seasons at Liquigas) and slot into a climber’s role at Bahrain, the team announced Thursday.
“Regarding Nibali, we spent five years together in Liquigas and I saw him growing up,” Pellizotti said in a team release. “It’s amazing how now I can support him toward his goals, among which is Giro d’Italia, where he will be aiming for his third victory. I will be one of his men for the climbs and my aim is to help him as much as possible.”
Pellizotti brings more climbing legs to help Nibali, who is targeting the Giro as his first major goal for 2017. The team also recently signed Janez Brajkovic, another strong climber who will lend support to Nibali.
The one-year deal is a boon for Pellizotti, who returns to the WorldTour level after five seasons with Pro Continental team Androni Giocattoli. He was among several veterans looking for a contract to continue in 2017.
Pellizotti’s world came crashing down in 2010 after he was named by the UCI for “suspicious blood values” as part of the new biological passport. Pellizotti vehemently denied the allegations, and following an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2011, he was handed a two-year suspension, returning to racing in 2012.
The case was considered an important milestone to confirm that the biological passport could be used as a mechanism not only to monitor athlete’s blood indicators, but as a tool to deliver racing suspensions.