Tadej Valjavec gets 2-year doping ban

GENEVA -- Slovenian cyclist Tadej Valjavec was given a two-year ban for doping on Friday, in another legal victory for cycling's biological passport project.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld an appeal by the International Cycling Union, which wanted Valjavec sanctioned even though he never tested positive for a banned drug.

CAS said its panel found that Valjavec's "anti-doping tests performed in April and August 2009 revealed abnormalities in the context of the athlete's biological passport to a degree which was entirely consistent with blood manipulation."

The 34-year-old rider was suspended through Jan. 19, 2013, fined $76,000 and stripped of all results and prizes from April 19 to Sept. 30, 2009, the court said.

It was a third straight victory for the UCI at sport's highest court in cases involving its flagship anti-doping program.

"We are extremely satisfied because this CAS verdict has once again given support to the reliability of the biological passport," UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told The Associated Press by telephone. "However, you are never happy with a case of doping because it is always one too many."

The governing body challenged the Slovenian cycling federation's decision last July to clear its star rider, who placed 10th in the 2008 Tour de France.

Valjavec had denied doping and blamed an unspecified illness for the irregularities in his blood samples.

However, CAS "confirmed the reliability of the indirect method of detection based on the blood profile of athletes and already established in previous CAS decisions concerning the Italian cyclists Pietro Caucchioli and Franco Pellizotti."

The UCI asked Slovenian officials to investigate Valjavec last May, days before the 2010 Giro d'Italia started. Valjavec was pulled from the race and suspended by his Ag2r-La Mondiale team.

He has raced this season for the third-tier Turkish team Manisaspor and had planned to start the weeklong Tour of Turkey on Sunday.

The UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency launched the biological passport in 2008 in an effort to fight doping.

About 850 riders have their regular blood samples monitored at the WADA laboratory in Lausanne. The program is designed to help reveal the effects of doping and banned methods such as blood transfusions, rather than tracing and testing for banned substances.

Valjavec was named along with Pellizotti in a second round of riders placed under suspicion by the UCI.

In a landmark CAS verdict last month, Pellizotti was banned for two years and stripped of his third-place finish at the 2009 Giro and his King of the Mountains title at the 2009 Tour.

It was the first ruling from a CAS panel of three lawyers, which examined the scientific and legal validity of the biological passport.

After the Pellizotti ruling, WADA director general David Howman described it as a "significant step" in anti-doping efforts.

Pellizotti was cleared by an Italian tribunal that had been advised to impose a two-year ban last October, prompting the UCI's successful challenge.

CAS also dismissed Caucchioli's appeal against his two-year suspension imposed by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) on the basis of irregular blood readings.

The court is preparing its verdict in a fourth biological passport case after another Italian, Francesco De Bonis, appealed his two-year ban imposed by CONI last May.