By Gregor Brown
Serbian Cyclist Ivan Stevic has appealed a lifetime-ban handed down by Italy's anti-doping court in September. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) charged the 28-year-old with serious anti-doping violations, and his team, Toyota-United, has since suspended its rider, pending a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
"He was disqualified in Italy for his involvement in the Oil for Drugs investigation," said CONI's Danilo di Tommaso to Cyclingnews. "He can't come into Italy because he committed criminal offence -- if he comes to Italy they will arrest him."
CONI charged the rider with use or attempted use of, possession of and illegal trafficking of prohibited substances. It based its charges on a May 2004 sting by the Italy's Anti-Narcotics Group (NAS) of Firenze in conjunction with the Oil for Drugs investigation. The same investigation that banned Doctor Carlo Santuccione for life and brought about suspension for several riders, including Danilo Di Luca.
NAS found a stash of banned substances in the residence of Stevic, which included corticosteroids and human growth hormone (HGH) Jintropin 10. CONI opened the Oil for Drugs hearings in 2007 based on NAS' operations in 2004 and it called Stevic for official hearings on two occasions -- March 18, 2008, and May 30, 2008. The cyclist did not show up for either meeting with CONI's anti-doping prosecutors.
Based on the evidence and Stevic's absences CONI recommended a lifetime-ban on June 23. The national anti-doping court followed through with CONI's recommendation on September 17.
Stevic claims CONI never made an honest effort to contact him and that its correspondence went to his old residence in Italy. Toyota-United team owner Sean Tucker stands behind the rider who gave the USA team many wins since joining in 2006.
"It is ridiculous, they could have easily picked up the phone to call the UCI, the federation or Googled Ivan Stevic to find our website. No one knew about this, even Ivan," said Tucker to Cyclingnews.
Tucker attributes NAS' findings to other riders who were staying with Stevic at the time of the raids. He explained that Stevic was away racing when the search took place and that the rider knew of the drugs, but explained they were from his teammates. "He said, 'Several of my teammates were taking drugs.'"
Stevic did not tell Team Toyota-United of the drug raid when he joined in 2006. Tucker inquired, as with all of his riders, about Stevic's past before offering an official contract.
"Do you take drugs, have you ever taken drugs, do you have any positives we don't know about? Those were the questions we asked and he answered 'no' to them all."
Tucker will wait for word from CAS before lifting Stevic's suspension. CAS confirmed to Cyclingnews that Stevic filed an appeal on October 24 and it should hear him within the next six months..