By Gregor Brown
Liquigas' difficulty of having too many Tour de France leaders has solved itself thanks to Franco Pellizotti. Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger, ninth last year, will lead the nine-man Italian team.
The team had originally planned to lead with Basso, Kreuziger, Pellizotti and Vincenzo Nibali.
Pellizotti finished third overall at the Giro d'Italia and won the Tour de France's mountain competition last year. However, Liquigas stopped the curly-haired Italian early last month, just days before the Giro d'Italia, when the International Cycling Union (UCI) announced anomalies in his blood profile.
Italy's Nibali stepped in for Pellizotti at the Giro d'Italia despite being on vacation after a hard early season. The 25-year-old has already proven his worth in stage races, finishing seventh at the Tour de France last year. At the Giro d'Italia, he helped the team win the time trial, held the pink jersey, won the stage to Asolo and saw to Basso's second overall win.
After his efforts, he is ready for a break. He will race the Italian Championships Saturday and then re-focus for the second half of the season.
"My goal is to be ready for the Italian Championships," Nibali told Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport last week after winning the Tour of Slovenia. "I am working to arrive there at my top, ready to fight.
Nibali will take two weeks of vacation and then focus on the Tour of Poland, Vuelta a España, the Worlds and the Tour of Lombardy.
Pellizotti has only raced once since the UCI's announcement. He took part in the 24 Hours of Feltre June 12, an unofficial event sponsored by Castelli.
Liquigas has not suspended Pellizotti, neither has the UCI nor the Italian cycling federation (FCI). The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) called Pellizotti in for a hearing on May 17, but agreed to delay the meeting after a request from Pellizotti's lawyers. The lawyers need more time so that their doctor, Giuseppe Banfi, is able to analyse all of Pellizotti's blood values from November 2007 to August 2009 - the period the UCI used to announce his biological passport values were irregular.
Pellizotti and Liquigas met to discuss his return in the Tour of Slovenia or Italian Championships, but they have decided against it since it could harm their position in CONI's investigation.
"It's not going to change my life if I have to wait another 15 days. The season is long, ending with Lombardy," said Pellizotti. "I still hope to race the Tour. Otherwise, I will do a training camp with the team at Passo San Pellegrino and then the Vuelta [a España]."
Liquigas's current Tour de France team is Basso, Kreuziger, Daniel Oss, Sylvester Szmyd, Brian Vandborg, Manuel Quinziato, Francesco Bellotti and Aleksandr Kuschynski. The full nine-man team will be officially announced in the next days.
The team supports Pellizotti's return to racing, maybe in time for the Tour de France, despite the bans of other cyclists for abnormal blood profiles in their biological passports.
"We believe in the biological passport," said Liquigas president, Paolo Dal Lago in May, "but sometimes it is managed wrongly and in this case, the UCI managed it wrongly."
The CONI has examined the case and it is expected to hear Pellizotti in the coming month. It will then pass its recommendation to the Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA). However, it does not look good for Pellizotti. In the last month, the TNA suspended Italians Francesco De Bonis and Pietro Caucchioli for similar, abnormal biological passport readings.
The UCI introduced the biological passport as a means to catch riders doping without a traditional positive test. It traces blood and urine values over time to look for suspicious changes and to signal doping.
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