Rome - Italy's anti-doping prosecutor received a sharp rebuke from the country's cycling federation on Wednesday after he suggested in an interview with The Associated Press that doping is so widespread it should possibly be legalised if not for the health risks.
In his first interview in two years, 78-year-old Ettore Torri told The AP on Tuesday that after four years in the job he is convinced all cyclists are doping.
"The indiscriminate and generalised statements from the prosecutor Ettore Torri pertaining to our discipline leave me flabbergasted, just as his proposed solution does, which I believe is inappropriate for someone in his position," said cycling federation president Renato Di Rocco.
Di Rocco added that Torri's comments have caused "enormous harm to our movement."
Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) president Giovanni Petrucci and secretary general Raffaele Pagnozzi met with Torri on Wednesday to reaffirm their battle against doping.
In the interview, Torri said, "I'm not the only one saying it. Lately, all of the cyclists I've interrogated have said that everyone dopes."
Torri has been at the forefront of the anti-doping fight since he took charge in 2006, prosecuting Giro d'Italia champions Ivan Basso and Danilo Di Luca and other Italian standouts such as Alessandro Petacchi and Riccardo Ricco on behalf of CONI.
Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was suspended last week after a small amount of the banned drug clenbuterol was discovered in his system. The Spanish rider blamed contaminated beef for the result.
"The longer I'm involved in this the more I marvel at how widespread doping is," Torri said. "And I don't think it will be eradicated. Because it just evolves continuously. There are new substances coming out that can't be tested for."
Torri said legalising doping would be a possible solution if that didn't harm the health of cyclists, noting that anti-doping authorities prosecute only a small percentage of offenders.
"It's not fair when we single out one rider in a 100," he said. "If the other 99 have doped too but are not prosecuted, it's not fair."
The Liquigas team of current Giro d'Italia champion Basso and recent Spanish Vuelta winner Vincenzo Nibali also attacked Torri.
Basso was one of the first high-profile athletes Torri went after, for his involvement in the Spanish probe Operation Puerto back in 2006, on the eve of the Tour de France. He served a two-year ban.
As one of Italy's biggest teams, Liquigas said in a statement that Torri's comments "infer that physicians and trainers help athletes avoid failing tests, therefore assuming the teams are involved as accomplices."
In the interview, Torri noted that even when a test is developed to find a certain substance, that doesn't eliminate the drug's use among dopers.
"There are always ways to use micro dosages that are not discovered in tests," Torri said. "These trainers are really good at their jobs and they're able to prescribe just enough of the drug that it remains under the banned levels."
Liquigas pondered how Torri can continue in his position after having declared such a preconceived position, and asked the International Cycling Union and Italian cycling federation to intervene.
Torri found a supporter in Ivano Fanini, who runs the Amore e Vita team and has long been an outspoken critic of doping in the sport.
"Torri deserves the Nobel prize," Fanini told the ANSA news agency. "His outlash comes from a man who has been fighting the doping system with difficulty and his work represents one of the few hopes for a cycling without tricksters and cheaters. ... This is not a show for the media, it's a call of alarm."