Cycling: Cipollini snared in Puerto case - report

Retired Italian cycling star Mario Cipollini used a sophisticated doping programme designed by a sports doctor currently standing trial in Spain, a report claimed Saturday.

At the 'Operation Puerto' trial which opened in Madrid last week, Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes faced charges of supplying and administering banned doping products to a number of top cyclists and athetes.

Cipollini, a former star sprinter who was crowned world champion in 2002, is accused by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport of being one of Fuentes' clients.

The paper carried a huge front page photo of the rider, once known as the 'Lion King' for his flamboyant personality and flowing locks of blonde hair, with the headline 'Here is the evidence which snares Cipollini'.

Cipollini told the paper he would make "no comment" until studying all the details of the allegations against him.

The report claims to have solid evidence of the doping programme Fuentes prepared for Cipollini during the period 2001-2004.

Referred to as 'Maria' -- like many of the other cyclists who were given code names by the doctor -- Cipollini is alleged to have used the banned blood booster (erythropoietin) as well as blood transfusions.

The Italian cycling federation (FIC) responded by saying it would become a civil party in the case, effectively in a bid to see Cipollini face doping charges.

"The Italian Cycling Federation will constitute a civil party in the 'Operation Puerto' investigation, in the light of the allegations against Mario Cipollini," FIC president Renato Di Rocco announced.

Cipollini had an outstanding year in 2002, winning the Milan-SanRemo one-day classic, Ghent-Wevelgem semi-classic, six stages at the Giro d'Italia, three at the Tour of Spain and then the world title in Zolder, Belgium.

La Gazzetta claims it has evidence that Cipollini was administered a blood transfusion three days before Milan-SanRemo, as well as before Ghent-Wevelgem, the start of the Tour of Spain and a last one four days before the World Championships road race in Zolder.

Blood transfusions are particularly attractive for endurance athletes because they boost performance via the added oxygen-rich blood cells in the blood while being difficult to detect.

With nearly 200 wins in his career from 1989 to 2005, Cipollini is considered one of the greatest sprinters of all time.

Included in his honours list are 12 Tour de France stages and 42 from the Giro d'Italia.

The biggest names to have already served suspensions for their role in Operation Puerto are Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Italian Ivan Basso.

The FIC statement added that representatives from Italy's Olympic Committee (CONI), which usually deals with doping cases in the country, will be in Madrid Monday for the anticipated testimony of Basso, who rides for the Liquigas team.