Reigning world champion road cyclist Marta Bastianelli has tested positive for a banned stimulant in a test conducted by the International Cycling Union (UCI), Italian news agency Ansa reported on Monday.
Bastianelli tested positive for the stimulant during the Under-23 World Championships at Verbania on July 5, the competition at which she qualified for next month's Olympic Games in Beijing.
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) responded to the news by kicking her off the Olympic squad but Bastianelli has insisted she is innocent and instead blamed her local pharmacy.
"I'm disgusted with my trusted chemist for preparing a mix of herbs for me aimed at weight loss," she said. "Like always I wanted to read the list of products used and amongst them was benfluorex, which doesn't figure among the list of banned substances. However, laboratory analysis demonstrated that this product contains the ingredient responsible for my positive test. But how could I know that?"
Italian Cycling Federation president Renato Di Rocco immediately sprung to Bastianelli's defence, claiming she was not guilty and insisting that they would ask for her B sample to be analysed.
"She has committed an incredible act of naivity, she tested positive for flenfluramina: a dieting product," he said. "She's obsessed with her weight, she eats only salad."
That version was backed up by Bastianelli's mother.
"My daughter only took a medicine for losing weight, Benfluorex, with the agreement of her doctor; she made sure that it wasn't a banned substance, it had a pineapple base," Mirella Bastianelli said.
Her mother added that Bastianelli had put on weight and had been advised by the Italian cycling team coaches to lose weight to improve her chances of winning races.
"Marta was so careful that recently she refused an anesthetic at the dentist for fear that it might contain a banned substance."
CONI officials were unsympathetic, though.
"If the analysis is confirmed we will be unyielding," said Italian Olympic Committee president Gianni Petrucci. "Marta Bastianelli has betrayed CONI, the (Italian Cycling) federation and the world of cycling."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008