Cycling: Cipollini lawyer threatens to sue - report

A lawyer for retired Italian cycling star Mario Cipollini threatened to sue Italy's biggest-seling newspaper over "false and absurd" allegations that he was a client of a sports doctor currently standing trial on doping charges.

"We refute these false and absurd allegations," lawyer Giuseppe Napoleone said in a statement published in La Gazzetta dello Sport on Sunday.

"In light of these (allegations) I have been instructed to protect the rights of my client whether in a civil court or a court of law."

Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes is currently standing trial in Madrid on 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, was accused Saturday by La Gazzetta dello Sport of being one of Fuentes' clients.

The report claims to have solid evidence of the doping programme Fuentes prepared for Cipollini during the period 2001-2004, which included the use of the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin), blood transfusions and growth hormones.

The allegations claim Cipollini was, like many of the other cyclists implicated in the affair - given a codename and referred to as 'Maria'.

A report in Sunday's Gazzetta went further in detail, claiming Cipollini benefited from a "more complex and sophisticated" programme put in place by Fuentes in 2002.

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.

In its inside pages Sunday, Gazzetta published charts from 2002 and 2003 which claim to show the exact dates of when Cipollini took drugs and extracted then re-injected blood.

The report claimed that in 2002, Cipollini used "13 blood bags", continuing in the same pattern through 2003 when he used up to nine before the start of the Giro d'Italia in May.

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.

The Italian cycling federation (FIC) responded on Saturday 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.

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.