UCI President Pat McQuaid has neither confirmed nor denied that more riders could be announced as facing disciplinary action following yesterday's declaration that Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Doimo), Jesus Rosendo Prado (Andalucia-Cajasur) and Tadej Valjavec (Ag2r-La Mondiale) had all returned abnormal findings through their biological passports.
Despite rumours that between five and eight riders would be announced as facing disciplinary sanctions, Monday saw just three names emerging as McQuaid told Cyclingnews that he deliberately avoids being drawn into the disciplinary process and is therefore not in a position to know.
“I don’t know if there are more,” he insisted on Tuesday evening. “I specifically request those in charge of anti-doping not to tell me of these things until they are ready to go. I don’t know anything until the press communiqué is ready.”
A fourth name was mentioned on Monday but this was later played down. Italian media sources had also claimed that Carlo Scognamiglio (ISD-Neri) was due to incur disciplinary action over his bio passport values.
Italian Cycling Federation president and vice president of the UCI, Renato Di Rocco, told Italpress that Scognamiglio was in the same situation as Pellizotti, Rosendo Prado and Valjavec. His team angrily denied this on Monday evening, saying that the rider had received no notification of any suspicions or disciplinary proceedings. It said that it would take the necessary legal action to defend the rider and the team.
McQuaid reacted to the three confirmed cases, saying that the news should have a deterrent effect on other riders. “These are another couple of guys that the UCI thinks have been involved in doping and they have been caught,” he said. “Once again, it is a pity that these [doping cases] are happening, but the riders will eventually learn.”
BMC Racing Team rider Thomas Frei recently tested positive for EPO and claimed that he would have beaten the test for his microdosing had he drunk enough water after taking the injection. McQuaid however implies that a rider in his situation would only get away with it for so long.
“There is no guarantee for those who play with the system, even those doing so thinking that they are getting away with microdosing,” he insisted. “They are playing with an area that is far too delicate and they are very foolish to do so.”
Pellizotti biggest scalp
While several riders were stopped last year on the basis of suspicious values, the news that Pellizotti was one of those to face disciplinary action this time round is the biggest such case. The 32-year-old Italian won the Plan des Corones stage in the 2008 Giro d'Italia and finished third in last year’s edition, later promoted to second when Danilo di Luca tested positive for CERA.
He also won the King of the Mountains award at the 2009 Tour de France, and was due to head to this year’s Giro as one of the favourites.
Cyclingnews suggested that today’s news marked a step forward for biological passport, in that a big fish had finally been caught for their passport values alone. Four riders nabbed last year - Pietro Caucchioli, Ricardo Serrano, Igor Astarloa and Rubén Lobato - were simply not at the same level, even if Astarloa was a former world champion.
McQuaid denied that it was the first major case, though, explaining that Thomas Dekker’s situation last year saw a big name go down. While Dekker actually tested positive for EPO, McQuaid said he was facing a ban anyway. “That case just pre-empted what was going to happen very soon afterwards, had he not failed that test,” he said.
A number of professional riders welcomed the disciplinary proceedings via Twitter. “Good to see the biological passport at work!” said Team Sky’s Simon Gerrans. Teammate Greg Henderson was equally approving, saying, “Off you trot Pellizotti. Keep em coming UCI”.