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La Gazzetta dello Sport accuses Mario Cipollini of working with Eufemiano Fuentes

La Gazzetta dello Sport charges that Fuentes prepared an extensive doping program for the "Lion King"

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MILAN (AFP) — Retired Italian cycling star Mario Cipollini used a sophisticated doping program designed by Eufemiano Fuentes, currently standing trial in Spain, a report claimed Saturday.

At the Operación Puerto trial, which opened in Madrid last week, the Spanish doctor faced charges of supplying and administering banned doping products to a number of top cyclists and athetes.

Cipollini, a former star sprinter who was crowned world champion in 2002, is accused by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport of being one of Fuentes’ clients.

The paper carried a huge front-page photo of the rider, once known as the “Lion King” for his flamboyant personality and flowing locks of blond hair, with the headline ‘Here is the evidence which snares Cipollini.’

Cipollini told the paper he would make “no comment” until studying all the details of the allegations against him.

Italian cycling federation president Renato Di Rocco said his organization would become a civil party in the case, effectively in a bid to see Cipollini face doping charges.

The report claims to have solid evidence of a doping program Fuentes allegedly prepared for Cipollini.

Referred to as “Maria” — like many of the other cyclists said to have been clients of Fuentes and were given code names by the doctor — Cipollini is alleged to have used the banned blood booster erythropoietin as well as blood transfusions.

The paper claims it has evidence of doping by the former sprinter for the years 2001-04.

Cipollini had an outstanding year in 2002, winning Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem, six stages at the Giro d’Italia, three at the Vuelta a España and finally the world title in Zolder, Belgium.

La Gazzetta claims it has evidence that Cipollini was administered a blood transfusion three days before Milan-San Remo, as well as before Ghent-Wevelgem, the start of the Vuelta and a last one four days before the world-championship road race in Zolder.

Blood transfusions are particularly attractive for endurance athletes because they boost performance via the added oxygen-rich blood cells in the blood while being difficult to detect.

With nearly 200 wins in his career from 1989 to 2005, Cipollini is considered one of the greatest sprinters of all time.

Included in his honors list are 12 Tour de France stages and 42 from the Giro.

The biggest names to have already served suspensions for their role in Operación Puerto are Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Italian Ivan Basso.