Ulissi has Italy's support after failed test

Diego Ulissi's stage wins at the Giro d'Italia came before his failed doping test. Bryn Lennon-Velo/Getty Images

MILAN (VN) -- Italy’s head cycling coach Davide Cassani spoke in support of Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) after news Wednesday that Ulissi tested positive for asthma drug Salbutamol during the Giro d’Italia.

“I am concerned that people understand one thing, that Salbutamol doesn’t make you go stronger, it’s an accepted product,” Cassani told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper Thursday.

“Cyclists know that if you take five puffs then you won’t go any faster. You need to understand that this isn’t doping, that it doesn’t better your performance and is not a masking agent.”

Lampre announced its Giro star exceeded the accepted limit of Salbutamol in his urine in an anti-doping control after Stage 11 of the Giro last month. The 24-year-old from Tuscany had already won the fifth and eighth stages, and he placed second in the time trial in Barolo the day after the failed test. He abandoned the race after Stage 17 while on antibiotics to fight a sore throat and temperature.

Ulissi was using an inhaler with Salbutamol spray for bronchospasm and, according to Lampre, took two puffs ahead of Stage 11. He was also given paracetamol by the race doctor after a mid-stage crash. The team reported that his urine showed 1900 nanograms per milliliter of Salbutamol, nearly double the accepted limit of 1000ng/ml.

The UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) only require a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for the asthma drug if more than 1600mg, around 14 to 17 puffs, is used per day. The drug was also in the news during the Critérium du Dauphiné two weeks ago, when television cameras showed reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky) using an inhaler in the final kilometers of a mountain stage.

“It’s quite common for endurance athletes to have exercise-induced problems,” Froome said, “so I’m not alone in that problem.”

Assuming the test results are correct, however, Ulissi would have over-used the drug and broken anti-doping rules. He lives near Lugano and will face Swiss Cycling’s anti-doping committee and a possible two-year ban. Lampre said yesterday that Ulissi will try to show why the levels could have been so high.

“He called me,” said Cassani. “(Ulissi) said, ‘I took those puffs in front of the doctor. One, two or three days before, I didn’t take it, only those two puffs.’ I believe he was telling me the truth, besides we are talking about Salbutamol and not EPO.”

Cyclists such as Leonardo Piepoli have been pardoned in the past, but others like Alessandro Petacchi served bans for over-use. Petacchi, who said he accidentally took too many sprays at the 2007 Giro, served a nine-month ban.

Salbutamol could help more than the airways. Studies in the last decade have shown that like Clenbuterol -- the drug that came to light when Alberto Contador tested positive at the 2010 Tour de France -- Salbutamol helps burn fat and tone muscle.

Ulissi will have to explain himself in Switzerland, and if sentenced will have the right to appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.