Alessandro Petacchi under investigation for drugs: Report

Team and lawyer stand up for green jersey wearer

Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi did not know he was being investigated for alleged doping practices prior to racing the Tour de France, the rider's lawyer said on Tuesday.

Petacchi, who is currently second in the race's green jersey points competition, is reportedly being investigated in Italy for using illegal drugs prior to the event.

Organisers of the world's biggest bike race, which finishes on Sunday, have a tough stance against any riders who are at the centre of investigations into possible drugs use.

However Petacchi's lawyer Virginio Angelini said in a statement issued through his Lampre team here that the Italian sprint star only learned of the probe on July 12.

As a result, Petacchi has been called to a hearing by the Padova prosecutor, but Angelini denied Petacchi knew of the summons before the start of the race.

"The Padova prosecutor invited M. Petacchi on July 12 (and not before the start of the Tour de France as has been claimed in error) to appear at a hearing after the Tour de France to answer questions which are related, and not to the current season," said Angelini.

Italian outfit Lampre, who learned of the summons through the media, said they would support Petacchi while awaiting "further details".

Angelini said Petacchi is "ready to clarify the situation and to supply all the necessary evidence to show that he has nothing to do with this affair".

Prior to the start of stage 16, after which he lost the green jersey to Norwegian rival Thor Hushovd, Petacchi said he had nothing to hide but would speak to prosecutors as soon as the race finishes.

"We can't have a minute's peace, there's always something going on," said the Italian, who was subject of an investigation three years ago which led to a one-year ban.

"Nobody told me anything about this investigation, maybe to leave me in peace on the Tour.

"But I will attend the hearing on July 28 as soon as I get back. If they had found anything suspect at my house, then I wouldn't be racing here."

On Tuesday the ANSA news agency, quoting informed sources, alleged that two banned substances were found at the Lampre rider's home - PFC (Perfluorocarbon), an alternative to the banned blood booster EPO, and human serum albumin.

According to ANSA the inquiry began before Petacchi lined up for the start of this year's Tour, in which he has won two stages.

The affair is said to centre on two former teammates as well as two other amateur riders.

Petacchi, one of the most successful sprinters of his generation, was suspended for a year after the 2007 Tour of Italy for testing positive for excessive levels of the asthma drug salbutamol.

© AFP 2010

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