Italian Franco Pellizotti is free to return to racing today and the UCI’s biological passport is under fire following an acquittal by the Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA).
Pellizotti had faced a possible two-year ban for irregular passport readings prior to winning the mountains classification at the Tour de France last year.
“I am very satisfied with this acquittal,” Pellizotti told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I threw away a season and now I am going to ask to be reimbursed by the International Cycling Union for the damages.”
CONI had recommended a two-year ban on July 29 based on evidence from the UCI. The UCI announced irregularities in Pellizotti’s blood profile on May 3, which derailed his plans to win the Giro d’Italia one year after he finished third and won the Tour’s mountains classification.
The TNA had suspended Italians Francesco De Bonis and Pietro Caucchioli in May for similar, abnormal biological passport readings. However, after a two and a half-hour meeting today in Rome, it decided Pellizotti’s case was different.
The TNA said in statement, “There is not enough sufficient evidence.” It also asked the UCI to pay €5000 for the investigation.
The UCI is expected to appeal TNA’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). It did so last month following a similar acquittal for Slovenian cyclist Tadej Valjavec. Valjavec returned to racing last month with his French team, AG2R La Mondiale.
Team Liquigas is expected to welcome Pellizotti back immediately as it had supported its rider throughout the investigation.
“Our beliefs are based on our doctors’ research,” said Liquigas president, Paolo Dal Lago. “We believe in the biological passport, but sometimes it is managed wrongly and in this case, the UCI managed it wrongly.”
The UCI introduced the biological passport at the start of the 2008 season and used it to catch five cyclists last June. It also had Dutchman Thomas Dekker in its radar, according to UCI President Pat McQuaid, though the cyclist tested positive for blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO) before being caught by the passport.
The biological passport controls a rider’s blood and urine values over time to look for suspicious changes. It can declare a doping case even if none of the values is suspicious on its own.
“I thought it [the biological passport] was started as an instrument to monitor the riders and hit at those suspected of cheating,” Pellizotti said in May. “It was like that in most cases. But this is what bothers me, after the Tour, they did only one surprise control, August 9, and another at our team camp in March 2010. If there were doubts, why did they not control me more?”
The UCI based its findings on 22 controls, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. It noted three suspicious controls: one on December 12, 2008, at Pellizotti’s home, one at a training camp April 15, 2009, and ahead of the Tour de France in Monaco on July 2, 2009.
The validly of its biological passport is now in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.