Pellizotti to race despite biological passport findings?

Franco Pellizotti is set to sign with a new team next week despite the International Cycling Union (UCI) stopping him with its biological passport.

“We have two possibilities,” said his agent, Alex Carera, “but we can’t say which teams now.”

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The 32-year-old Italian will likely sign a contract next Friday. One second division and one first division team are courting Pellizotti. The first division team is reportedly Spain’s Movistar. The team is managed by Spaniard Eusebio Unzué and started in 1980, racing as Caisse d’Epargne from 2006 until this year.

“We have met with different team managers, not only Unzué,” added Carera. “I can’t confirm that the team is Movistar at this moment.”

Pellizotti raced the last six years with team Liquigas. Last year, he finished third overall at the Giro d’Italia and won the mountains competition at the Tour de France in 2009.

His team search is precarious, though, because the UCI may try to block his return. He last raced on May 1 at the GP Larciano because two days later, the UCI announced that he had suspicious biological passport readings.

It plotted the values of Pellizotti’s 22 anti-doping controls and spotted three that suspiciously stood out. It passed the information on to the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), who agreed and recommended a two-year ban. The Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA) didn’t agree, though, and acquitted him on October 21.

“There is not a sufficient level of certainty,” said the TNA, “to consider the accused cyclist of the crimes.”

The UCI is now likely to appeal the TNA’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as it did with Tadej Valjavec. The UCI also stopped Valjavec on May 3 for suspicious biological passport readings, but his Slovenian national federation acquitted him. His future now is in the hands of the CAS. If the CAS rules in favour of the UCI, it will end Valjavec’s career and Pellizotti’s hopes. If not, the biological passport will come under threat.

Pellizotti maintains his innocence. He said that the suspicious readings were due to altitude training and not something sinister, like blood doping. Pending a UCI appeal and a possible suspension, he is free to race.

“Franco has a certain value,” Carera said, “but when the situation is not clear it is not easy for anyone, Franco included.”