International Cycling Tour ends with new scandal

The International Cycling Union Pro Tour closed with new doping scandals and with the sport's governing body vowing to crack down.

Danilo Di Luca was excluded Thursday from the Giro di Lombardia - the last race of the elite series - two days after he was banned for three months by the Italian Olympic Committee in yet another doping-related scandal.

"This other injustice reinforces (my) intention to appeal against the ban. And the UCI will have to reinstate me on the Pro Tour," Di Luca was quoted as saying in Friday's edition of Gazzetta dello Sport. "In the end, I will ask for damages."

With Di Luca out, Cadel Evans of Australia is now favorite for the overall UCI Pro Tour title going into the hilly race from Varese to Como.

CONI suspended Di Luca, the Giro d'Italia champion, for his ties to an Italian doctor who allegedly provided athletes with doping products in what anti-doping prosecutors have labeled the "Oil for Drugs" case.

On Wednesday, the UCI said it planned to collect blood and urine samples from all professional riders next season to create "a biological passport" - a medical profile that could then be compared to the values registered in subsequent doping tests.

It's been another 'annus horribilis' for the cycling world.

The season opened in March with the Paris-Nice classic, when the UCI vowed to introduce target-testing and blood-profiling to beef up its anti-doping program, after major doping scandals in 2006.

Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and several other top riders were kept out of last year's Tour de France for being linked to a Spanish probe known as "Operation Puerto" and race winner Floyd Landis tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. On Monday, Oscar Pereiro of Spain was awarded the winner's yellow jersey from the 2006 Tour, after a U.S. arbitration panel last month removed the title from Landis, who has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Basso and five others withdrew before this year's Giro d'Italia in May because of Operation Puerto. Basso later admitted to attempted doping and received a two-year ban in June.

Around the same time, former star Bjarne Riis and a half-dozen riders from a German team acknowledged using the blood-booster erythropoietin, or EPO, during the 1990s.

Then came the darkest month - July. The 2007 Tour de France was so rife with doping scandals that, by the time it was over, the very existence of the sport's biggest event was thrown into question.

Eddy Mazzoleni and Alessandro Petacchi missed the race after being suspended by their teams following doping allegations. Patrik Sinkewitz, who acknowledged using a testosterone gel before a failed doping test ahead of the Tour, also didn't compete.

Pre-Tour favorite Alexandre Vinokourov and three other cyclists tested positive for banned substances during the race itself, forcing the withdrawal of the entire Astana and Cofidis teams, and Michael Rasmussen was pulled out by his Rabobank team - while in possession of the leader's yellow jersey - for allegedly lying about his whereabouts to avoid out-of-competition doping controls.

At the Tour of Germany in August, Lorenzo Bernucci tested positive for a non-amphetamine appetite suppressant.

And the catalog doesn't end there.

The World Anti-Doping Agency and CONI want Petacchi banned for using an asthma drug during the Giro d'Italia.

WADA and CONI have filed an appeal to sport's highest tribunal to annul a decision by the Italian cycling federation which cleared Petacchi of any wrongdoing after he registered a "non negative" test for salbutamol in May.

Petacchi, who is still racing and won the Paris-Tours cycling race Sunday, is authorized by the ICU to use a certain amount of salbutamol as part of his regular medication, Ventolin. Elevated levels of the drug can have performance-enhancing effects.

Evans, who had trailed Di Luca by 15 points, leads the overall rankings with 227 points, followed by Tour winner Alberto Contador with 191 and UCI Pro Tour defending champion Alejandro Valverde with 190.

Contador or Valverde will need to place at least second on the 242-kilometer (150.4-mile) course and hope Evans finishes outside the top seven to clinch the title.

The winner of the Giro di Lombardia is awarded 50 points, with other points awarded on a 40-35-30-25-20-15-10-5-2 basis.

Double world champion Paolo Bettini will be looking for his third straight victory in the race itself although he could be challenged by 2004 winner Damiano Cunego.

A minute's silence will be held before the 101st edition of the classic in memory of 1961 winner Vito Taccone, who died on Monday.

The 2008 season is scheduled to begin Jan. 22 in Adelaide, Australia with the Tour Down Under.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova