Liquigas Sport president Paolo Dal Lago has insisted that Liquigas-Cannondale parted company with Franco Pellziotti due to the presence of Grand Tour winners Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali in the team and not because of his problems with the UCI’s biological passport system.
Pellizotti was sidelined from action in May after abnormalities were detected in his biological passport blood values. In October, the Italian was cleared by the Italian national anti-doping court TNA due to a shortage of evidence proving that he was guilty of blood doping. However, he did now renew his contract with Liquigas-Cannondale and he has yet to confirm a team for the 2011 season.
“His case is completely different from that of Manuel Beltran [who tested positive for EPO at the 2008 Tour de France while riding for Liquigas],” Dal Lago told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I support the biological passport but only as an instrument to identify the riders on whom to increase controls. It seems to me that the verdict says it all: there is no proof of an offence.
“By that stage Franco had his path at Liquigas blocked by Basso and Nibali, but I wish him the best. I will support him amongst our rivals.”
Dal Lago also defended his team’s decision to withhold Ivan Basso from the Giro d’Italia in order to keep him fresh for an assault on Tour de France victory in July. Vuelta a Espana winner Vincenzo Nibali will lead the Giro line-up, while Basso prepares for the Tour. According to Dal Lago, the defending champion Basso’s non-participation is a measure of his team’s respect for the Giro.
“In the past, the presence of big champions at the Giro just to prepare for the Tour hasn’t been well-received, neither by the media, who justifiably criticised them, nor by sports fans,” Dal Lago said. “This year the Giro is an inferno and in the last week on the decisive climbs, Basso would have to say to Nibali, ‘I can’t kill myself because I have to go to the Tour.’
“It wouldn’t be ethically correct and we wouldn’t have a positive return for our image. It’s also the best choice from a media standpoint. Ivan has won two Giri and can dream of the big Giro-Tour double in the future.”
Liguigas are committed to sponsoring the team for at least the next two years and Dal Lago outlined the advantages of the oil company investing in cycling rather than football.
“Cycling takes place outside of the cities, on the roads travelled by our tankers and in the presence of 6 million spectators at the Giro,” he explained. “In football, we would have to fill who knows how many stadiums in order to reach just 1% of our potential clients.”