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UCI successfully appeals CONI decision to clear rider over biological passport irregularities

Former Liquigas rider Franco Pellizotti has said that he is almost certainly finished with cycling after being banned for two years by the Court of Abitration for Sport (CAS) as a result of irregularities in his biological passport, in one of two decisions announced yesterday that are widely seen as landmark rulings for the programme.

The Friulian had been suspended days before last year’s Giro d’Italia – his place was taken by Vincenzo Nibali who went on to finish third in that race, then win the Vuelta – but was later cleared by CONI, the Italian national Olympic Committee.

That decision was subsequently appealed to CAS by world cycling’s governing body, the UCI which asked for a minimum ban of two years, the period now imposed by CAS, and the cyclist was also fined €115,000.

Pellizotti, who has not raced since his suspension, has been banned until 3 May 2012, and stripped of results obtained since 7 May 2009, including his third-place overall finish in that year’s Giro d’Italia and his polka dot jersey for winning the mountains classification in the Tour de France two months later.

According to Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport, the decision wasn’t the outcome that Pellizotti had expected, but it was one that he had feared, with the cyclist saying that he had hoped the verdict would go the other way. “But I knew that it was difficult for me. My case has been widely publicised and the issue at stake was too important.”

The 33-year-old confided that he believed his absolution by CONI’s anti-doping tribunal, the TNA, would act in his favour. “The Italian TNA isn’t the tribunal of Burundi or the Congo: with the verdict that cleared me, I thought I had a weapon in my favour, but it wasn’t enough. They [the UCI] fielded six expert witnesses, two lawyers and two medical consultants.

“In any event, I don’t believe that the biological passport programme would have been blown apart if I’d been cleared: I’ve always said that it is just to use it in a correct way, as an instrument of control,” added the rider, who had reportedly hoped to join Movistar in the event that the decision went his way.

Pellizotti’s lawyer is considering an appeal to the Swiss Federal Court, but the cyclist himself said: “I don’t know if it’s worth it. I’ve already incurred substantial costs. I’ve gone through a terrible year with my family. There’s more to life.

“I’m almost certainly finished with cycling,” he continued. “It’s a sport that is run in an unjust manner: I’ve experienced it myself and I can’t accept it. I’ve been patient, I’ve waited for the decision without racing, unlike others, and I’ve trained with the conviction that I’d be able to return this year.

“Now my disappointment is very strong. And I want to give up. I’m sorry for cycling and for my fans, who have understood the situation and are close to me, “ Pellizotti.

The other decision announced yesterday concerned another Italian cyclist, two-time Giro d’Italia stage winner and top ten overall finisher Pietro Caucchioli who enjoyed his most successful spells with Alessio and Credit Agricole. He was suspended by his then team Lampre in June 2009 after irregularities came to light in his biological passport.

Some 12 months later, CONI banned him for two years, and yesterday CAS rejected his appeal against that decision and confirmed that ban.

UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told The New York Times: “We were always convinced that our programme was very good, not only for cycling, but for the whole sports movement, and we are satisfied with the decision the court made. We are proud of what we have accomplished.”

Jonathan Vaughters, manager of Garmin-Cervelo, welcomed the endorsement of the biological passport programme that yesterday’s decisions appear to give, telling the newspaper: “We knew the passport would eventually be challenged in court and were waiting to see how it would turn out. If these first couple of cases were overturned, it would have basically proved that the passport was invalid. In that case, I couldn’t see it surviving.”

 

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.