Franco Pellizotti found guilty of doping

GENEVA -- Italian rider Franco Pellizotti was found guilty of doping and banned for two years Tuesday in a landmark victory for cycling's blood profiling program.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that evidence of blood doping was confirmed in Pellizotti's biological passport profile. He was stripped of all his race results since May 2009.

Pellizotti, whose ban runs through May 2, 2012, loses his third-place finish at the 2009 Giro d'Italia and his King of the Mountains title at the 2009 Tour de France. He also must pay the International Cycling Union a fine of $160,000, CAS said.

Cycling's governing body welcomed the court's endorsement of its flagship project to catch drug cheats.

"We always were convinced of the quality of our anti-doping program and the work of our scientific people," UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani said in a telephone interview.

Cycling's governing body appealed to CAS after he was cleared by an Italian anti-doping court last October.

The UCI said CAS also rejected Pietro Caucchioli's appeal against his two-year suspension imposed by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) on the basis of biological passport results.

Pellizotti and Caucchioli never tested positive for banned drugs but showed irregular results in blood samples taken for their biological passport.

The verdicts are the first issued by CAS appeal panels that have examined the scientific and legal validity of the biological passport. The program was designed so that scientists can prove evidence of the effects of doping rather than trace and test for banned substances.

The CAS panel "reviewed in detail the biological passport program applied by the UCI and has found that the strict application of such program could be considered as a reliable means of detecting indirect doping methods," it said in a statement.

The project was launched by the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2008.

"Both of these cases are important for cycling, for the biological passport and for sport," Carpani said. "Thanks to the good cooperation of WADA, we were sure we could go in front of CAS with a strong case."

WADA director general David Howman said the verdicts were a "significant step" in anti-doping efforts.

"The athlete biological passport program has proven it can withstand legal and scientific challenges. These decisions send a strong message to those athletes who take the risk to cheat that we will ultimately catch them," Howman said in a statement.

Pellizotti's case was heard at the Lausanne-based court last Wednesday as the fourth, and highest profile, test of the biological passport.

The 33-year-old rider had been one of the favorites for the 2010 Giro d'Italia. Days before the three-week race started last May, Pellizotti was suspended by his Liquigas team after the UCI said his blood profile results were suspicious.

The case was handled by CONI, which recommended that its anti-doping court impose a two-year ban. However, the panel ruled last October that the evidence did not prove Pellizotti's guilt.

Pellizotti, who has not raced since, also appealed to CAS seeking damages from the UCI.

Caucchioli was among the first group of five riders named in June 2009 for suspected biological passport violations. The 35-year-old rider, who won two Giro stages in 2001, was banned by CONI through June 2011.

About 850 riders have their blood profiles monitored by scientists at the WADA laboratory in Lausanne.

The UCI's annual $8.3 million costs for the project are partly funded by race organizers and teams. Riders also contribute a percentage of their prize money.

The UCI's work has been intended as a pilot that could be copied by other sports federations, including the International Association of Athletics Federations and soccer's governing body FIFA.

CAS is preparing verdicts in two more biological passport cases.

The UCI challenged Slovenian officials' refusal to suspend Tadej Valjavec over his suspicious blood readings. Another Italian, Francesco De Bonis, appealed his two-year CONI ban after being sanctioned using passport evidence last May.