Italy's Olympic Committee (CONI) said Monday it had launched a probe following newspaper allegations that retired cyclist Mario Cipollini was a client of a sports doctor currently on trial in Spain on doping charges.
Cipollini, world champion in 2002, was accused Saturday by La Gazzetta dello Sport of being a client of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who is currently standing trial in Spain on charges of administering doping products.
The report claimed to have solid evidence of a sophisticated 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.
Cipollini's lawyer on Sunday refuted the allegations and indicated the possibility of launching legal proceedings against the newspaper.
The allegations, however, could lead to a fuller investigation into the champion affectionately known as the 'Lion King' for his flamboyant style and flowing locks of blond hair.
A brief statement on the website of CONI, coni.it, said: "The anti-doping commission wishes to announce the opening of an investigation following recent press reports pertaining to the cyclist Mario Cipollini."
The decision comes a day after the Italian cycling federation (FIC), upon hearing of the allegations, said it would become a civil party in the ongoing case against Fuentes in Madrid.
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 in a bid to boost his performance.
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.
With nearly 200 wins in his career from 1989 to 2005, Cipollini, now aged 45, 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.