Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) has been issued with formal notification that he is under investigation as part of a widespread inquiry into doping practices being carried out in Italy by Padova-based prosecutor Benedetto Roberti. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the current wearer of the green jersey was issued with the notification that he has been placed under investigation for “the use of forbidden substances and practices” before the start of this year’s Tour de France.
Petacchi is accused of having used PFC (Perfluorocarbon) and human serum albumin. PFC can be used to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood without raising haematocrit level. Its use in the peloton was first rumoured in 1997 as an alternative to EPO, when the UCI introduced “health checks” preventing riders with haematocrit levels in excess of 50% from competing. PFC is as yet undetectable. Human albumin, on the other hand, can be used to reduce haematocrit level.
Petacchi’s home was searched in April as part of the Mantova-based doping investigation that placed a particular emphasis on his Lampre team and no illegal substances were found at that time.
Since then, the home of Petacchi’s teammate Lorenzo Bernucci and those of 22 clients of Brescia-based doctor Filippo Manelli, as well as rooms at June’s GiroBio have been searched as part of this new investigation, and La Gazzetta suggests that testimony citing Petacchi may have emerged from this branch of the inquiry.
Petacchi previously tested positive for salbutamol in 2007, missing the 2007 and 2008 Tours de France as a consequence.
In any case, the fact that Petacchi was served with these papers before the start of the Tour de France may have implications for his further participation in the race. As La Gazzetta points out, a rider who is under investigation is not automatically excluded from racing but the precedent for such an action exists. In April BMC suspended both Alessandro Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio while their involvement in the Mantova investigation was ongoing. It remains to be seen what action Lampre will take on the matter.