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Retired sprint great Petacchi banned from cycling for two years

media Alessandro Petacchi won six Tour de France stages including a sprint in Lyon in 2003 AFP

Retired Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi, winner of six Tour de France and 22 Giro d'Italia stages, has been suspended for two years for blood doping, the sport's governing body the UCI said on Saturday.

The UCI has sanctioned the sprinter "for a period of two years of ineligibility for anti-doping rule violations committed in 2012 and 2013," said a press release.

The case is based "on information received from the Austrian police authorities", the UCI said.

In June, Austrian cyclists Stefan Denifl and Georg Preidler were banned for four years for doping by the Austrian anti-doping agency.

Petacchi's punishment takes effect from May 14, the date of the opening of an investigation by the UCI against him, Slovenian Borut Bozic (retired) and Slovenia's Kristijan Koren and Croatian Kristijan Durasek, both still riding.

The UCI said Petacchi had accepted "the consequences" and would be stripped of three stage victories in the 2012 Tour of Bavaria. He is ineligible to participate in any event under UCI auspices for two years.

At the end of February, Austrian and German police dismantled a large international blood doping network based in Erfurt, Germany, and centred on German doctor Mark Schmidt on the eve of the 2019 Nordic Ski World Championships in Seefeld, Austria.

Initially focused on cross-country skiing, the investigation, named 'Aderlass' from the German word for bleeding, quickly spread to half a dozen sports, including cycling.

Italian and French media reported that Petacchi went to Schmidt for blood doping, transfusing his own blood which was then treated to raise the red blood cell count to increase power and stamina.

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