Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) is likely to miss the Tour de France and his career could even be over after the UCI confirmed his ?non negative? test for the banned substance salbutamol.

Testing of the A urine sample taken after his third stage win in the Giro d?Italia in Pinerolo showed levels of 1320ng/ml for salbutamol, and on Tuesday further tests carried out in Barcelona failed to clarify if the salbutamol came from an asthma inhaler or from an injection.

As a result Petacchi will now have to prove his innocence to the Italian Olympic Committee?s anti-doping investigators, but is facing a race against time to clear his name before the start of the Tour de France. If he fails to justify his high salbutamol levels Petacchi faces an automatic ban of two years, which at 33, is likely to mean the end of his career.

Saunier Duval rider Leonardo Piepoli could also face a ban. His test, after winnning stage 10 of the Giro, reportedly showed a salbutamol level of 1800ng/ml. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper a further two days are needed to complete the extra tests in Barcelona.

Like many riders, both Piepoli and Petacchi have TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) certificates for salbutamol, having undergone tests that confirm they suffer from asthma. However under WADA and UCI rules, the maximum limit for salbutamol in urine is 1000ng/ml.

Above that the drug is considered a steroid because it can help performance and recovery. Serious asthma attacks and consequent high use of inhalers rarely produce levels of 400 to 500ng/ml. Seven inhalations apparently produce a level of 200ng/ml.

Petacchi and the Milram team have said they are determined to try and clear his name and the Tuscan sprinter is set to forgo asking for the B sample to be analysed so that an investigation and disciplinary hearing can be held as quickly as possible.

?I don?t want to miss the Tour de France but what can I do to prove my innocence?? Petacchi told Gazzetta dello Sport.

?Why would I have done anything during the Giro, knowing I carry the responsibility for the team on my shoulders, with my sponsors always talking about being against doping.?

?I might have done an extra spray with my inhaler but I didn?t do anything illegal, I even wanted to quit the Giro the day I won the stage??

Petacchi seems ready to fight to save his career but will have to do it before riders travel to London Wednesday for the start of the Tour de France. It will be the longest and probably the hardest sprint of his life.

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