Alessandro Petacchi has left the Giro d’Italia and revealed he has seven days to provide his initial defence, after being notified by the UCI he is under investigation for a ‘potential Anti-Doping Rules Violations’ for his links to the Operation Aderlass blood doping ring.
Petacchi was working as a technical commentator for Italian state broadcaster RAI at the Giro d’Italia and has denied any wrongdoing. He was publicly backed by the head of RAI Sport Auro Bulbarelli despite the accusations, but he was quickly replaced by Stefano Garzelli in the commentary booth for Wednesday’s fifth stage to Terracina.
"I’m alleged to have met this doctor years ago but as I’ve already said, I’ve never met him or spoken to him," Petacchi said on Italian television before returning home.
"I received notification via email from the UCI about the investigation into Dr. Schmidt and my alleged contact with him after already reading about it in the newspapers. Now I’m trying to get the documents that incriminate me via my lawyer and I’m going to go home because I need to speak to my lawyer, understand things and prepare my defence.
"I’ve got to send it in the next seven days. I hope to clear things up as soon as possible and be back at the Giro d’Italia as soon as possible."
A joint investigation by the French newspaper Le Monde and the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper first alleged Petacchi was a client of Dr. Mark Schmidt, who was arrested in early March as part of Operation Aderlass. He is considered to be at the centre of a blooding doping ring that included cross-country skiers and athletes from other sports from a number of different nations.
On Wednesday morning, the UCI has confirmed the names of four cyclists involved in Operation Aderlass, with Petacchi, Kristijan Koren, Kristijan Durasek, and Borut Bozic all being suspended and notified of potential Anti-Doping Rules Violations. Koren was in Vincenzo Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida squad at the Giro d’Italia but did not start stage 5, while Bozic was suspended from his role as a Bahrain-Merida directeur sportif. UAE Team Emirates pulled Durasek from the Tour of California.
On Sunday, Petacchi’s former teammate Danilo Hondo confessed to blood doping, saying he paid Dr. Schimdt €30,000 for his blood doping services in 2012 and 2013. Petacchi, Koren and Bozic are accused of the “Use of Prohibited Method” for the same period, while Durasek case is linked to 2017 when he already rode for UAE Team Emirates.
Petacchi and Hondo rode together at Lampre-ISD from 2011-2012, with the German often acting as Petacchi’s leadout man in the sprints. Hondo retired in 2014, while Petacchi retired mid-way through 2015.
During his long career, which began in 1996, Petacchi won 152 races, including the 2005 Milan-San Remo and 22 stages at the Giro d’Italia.