Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cycling [Print without images]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
UPDATE 2-Cycling-Di Luca cleared of doping

Reuters

(adds details, quotes)

ROME, April 16 - Giro d'Italia winner Danilo Di Luca has been cleared of doping because of insufficient evidence, an Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) commission said on Wednesday.

The committee's anti-doping prosecutor had wanted Di Luca to be banned for two years for showing abnormal hormone levels in a dope test carried out after the 17th stage of last May's race.

A CONI spokesman said there was "not a sufficient degree of probability" to rule against the LPR rider, who did not attend the hearing and now looks set to defend his title when the 2008 Giro starts on May 10.

A first hearing was held on April 1 following almost a year of wrangles because of complex scientific data. The commission decided it could not make a ruling and asked three independent experts to go away and form an opinion.

Their report back to the commission on Wednesday showed there was still no clarity over why the hormone levels were abnormal.

"The opinion of the experts is conflicting. It appears difficult to establish whether the athlete's urine has been tampered with," Di Luca's lawyer Federico Cecconi told the hearing.

PREVIOUS BAN

At the first hearing, the defence said the abnormal hormone level was because the 32-year-old had drunk water before the test. They said tests had been carried out with volunteers who exhibited similar hormone levels having drunk water.

The anti-doping prosecutor maintained the abnormal reading was because of an intravenous drip possibly containing plasma.

"Blood and urine cannot be tampered with," prosecuting lawyer Fabio Filocamo told the hearing before the not guilty verdict. "Those who do it are committing an illegal act...therefore he must be punished."

Di Luca was given a three-month ban by CONI in October for a separate doping matter. He was sanctioned for his involvement with Carlo Santuccione, a doctor accused of supplying doping products to athletes.

The rider appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the ruling and is awaiting a decision.

Di Luca was forced to miss September's world championships in Stuttgart because of the two doping probes and was thrown out of the Pro Tour in October while leading the competition.

Cycling has been rocked by a series of doping scandals in recent years and Italy has been hit especially hard. The 2006 Giro winner Ivan Basso is serving a ban for attempted doping.

CONI's anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri has been on a crusade to clean up the sport but Di Luca being cleared follows the Italian Cycling Federation's decision to reject Torri's bid to ban Alessandro Petacchi for a year.

Petacchi tested positive for salbutamol during the last Giro but argued he used the substance in his asthma inhaler, for which he had a medical certificate, and that any overuse was human error.

The case is now with the CAS, where Torri may also decide to appeal against the Di Luca decision. (Reporting by Antonella Ciancio, writing by Mark Meadows in Milan, editing by Rex Gowar)