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Savio defends Pellizotti’s Androni signing after ban

Gianni Savio defends his signing of Franco Pellizotti to team Androni after Italian rider's two-year ban

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MILAN, Italy (VN) — Franco Pellizotti joined Italian Pro Continental squad Androni-Giocattoli yesterday thanks, ironically, to the same biological passport that saw him suspended for two years. As with first-division teams, Gianni Savio’s second-division Italian team uses the system to monitor riders’ blood levels before offering a contract.

The Court of Arbitration of Sport used abnormal levels on Pellizotti’s passport to ban him in 2010, but that passport has shown no such issues since that time, so Savio saw fit to sign him.

“We need to recognize the UCI’s work,” Savio told VeloNews today. “I use it [the passport] to sign riders and to follow my current riders. In the past, we didn’t have these instruments. You can say we didn’t do enough in the past to stop certain riders, but I didn’t have the means!”

Savio may be known for his dashing style at races, with a smart suit and good looks, but insists he’s quite serious about doping in his sport. He explained, “The team is truly doing its part in fighting doping.”

The Androni riders have signed agreements to provide team management with the passwords to their passport accounts. Savio said that the team has used the online accounts to follow and stop riders. In the last three years, it stopped two riders from racing who had anomalies.

The Union Cycliste International (UCI) stopped Pellizotti two years ago for abnormal levels. His case went to the Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA), where he was acquitted. The UCI appealed the case to the sport’s high court, CAS, who found him guilty.

Pellizotti’s case was the first time the CAS ruled on the biological passport. The UCI introduced its passport system in 2008 to be enable its anti-doping wing to identify doping without a rider registering a positive test. Analysts plot blood and urine numbers over time, which helps signal irregularities. The UCI has made a practice of targeting individual riders and teams suspected of cheating and in 2011 French paper L’Equipe caused a stir by releasing the UCI’s “suspicion list,” which was based on abnormalities found between blood tests conducted before the 2010 Tour de France and athlete’s passports.

The 34-year-old Italian from Northeast Italy had an impressive 2009 season. Pellizotti placed second overall at the Giro d’Italia and won the mountains competition at the Tour de France. However, after his ban he had to settle for Savio’s second-division team.

Savio also signed and helped re-launch Michele Scarponi after he was linked to the Operación Puerto doping investigation. Asked if he was worried about associating his team with former dopers, he responded, “It’s hypocrisy.”

“Why does a WorldTour team say they won’t take a rider involved with doping? If so, then you need to forget about Ivan Basso, Danilo Di Luca, Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador… We can go on. The same teams that didn’t want Scarponi knocked on his door when he started to win. Does that seem correct?

“We re-launched him [Scarponi] and then everyone wanted to sign him. With three stage wins and fourth overall in the Giro, they wanted him even if he was the same cyclist as before, the one who was involved in Operación Puerto.”

Savio is unable to take Pellizotti to the Giro because teams have already given a list of probable riders to the organizers. But he said that he wouldn’t have raced Pellizotti anyway.

“I have riders who’ve been training all year to be ready to race. It wouldn’t be correct to force one of them to stay home because I signed a rider on the eve of the race.”

Pellizotti will return to racing at the Circuit Lorraine, May 16-20, and hopes to win the Giro di Lombardia in October. His contract runs through 2013. Savio explained that next year they will return to win the Giro — with Pellizotti on the roster.