Alessandro Petacchi, who today lost the lead in the Tour de France points competition to last year’s winner of the green jersey, Thor Hushovd, has been placed under formal investigation for using banned substances by Italian magistrates investigating allegations of doping within Italian cycling.
Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport has reported that Petacchi had been issued with a document called an avviso di garanzia which, in Italian law, notifies someone that they are under formal investigation.
There is no equivalent in English law, and while the issue of an avviso di garanzia does not necessarily mean that the party receiving it will be charged, it is a significant step in the legal process.
There appears to be some confusion as to when the Lampre-Farnese Vini cyclist, whose home was raided in April by police acting on behalf of the magistates in Padua who are leading the enquiry – although today’s developments are not believed to be connected to that seatch – actually received the notification.
One of the substances that Petacchi is under investigation for allegedly having used are Perfluorocarbon (PFC), a substance with medical applications including use as a synthetic blood in the treatment of accident victims or anaemics.
In doping, it helps boost the bloodstream’s ability to carry oxygen, but without the tell tale effect that substances such as EPO have on the user’s haematocritic count, effectively rendering it invisible to current forms of testing.
It is understood that Petacchi, winner of two Tour de France stages so far this year, is alos suspected of having used human albumim, used to thin the blood, and which can have the effect of reducing a person's haematocritic count.
The Gazzetta dello Sport has suggested that Petacchi may have been aware of the formal investigation before the Tour started in Rotterdam on 3 July, but in a statement the cyclist’s lawyer said that the document was dated 12 July and dismissed reports that it might have been before than as “superficial and erroneous.
If the newspaper is correct, then it would have been expected that Lampre-Farnese Vini would have withdrawn Petacchi from their line-up for the race, as BMC Racing did before the Giro d’Italia when it emerged that Alessandro Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio, both of whom raced at Lampre last season, were being investigated as part of the same enquiry.
BMC Racing subsequently satisfied itself that both riders had nothing to hide and the pair were named in its team for the Tour de France, although Santambrogio withdrew from the race yesterday through illness.
Lampre said that its management had confronted Petacchi with the press accusations and had been made aware of the statement he had given to the press. It added that it was placing its trust in Petacchi, given his willingness to clarify his situation and co-operate with investigators to prove his innocence, although it added that it would await further developments in the case.
The Gazzetta dello Sport reported that prior to this morning’s Stage 16 of the Tour, the Lampre team had stayed within their coach until the last possible moment before making their way to the start line, although the newspaper did manage to put some questions to the cyclist.
Petacchi confirmed that he would be meeting with magistrates on 28 June, but did not know what they wished to ask him or why he had been accused of using banned substances, adding that he would try to put the accusations out of his mind while he tackled the remainder of the Tour and continued his fight for the green jersey.
In May 2008, Petacchi received a ten month ban, backdated to 1 November 2007, from the Court of Arbitration in Sport after returning a non-negative result for the asthma drug Salbatumol which Petacchi had permission to use but he had exceeded the stated dose. He was sacked by his then team Milram days later.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.