The future of the second-division Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela team is secure for at least another full season thanks to the return of Franco Pellizotti. The future of one of the team’s stars, José Rujano, is not, however, after team boss Gianni Savio criticized his early departure from the Giro d’Italia.
Pellizotti, who returned quietly to racing last month at the Circuit Lorraine, was the linch-pin to secure financial backing that guarantees Savio’s Pro Continental team heading into next season.
“When we signed Pellizotti, our sponsors agreed to continue with us in step for the future,” Savio told VeloNews. “This gives us a guarantee that we can be competitive moving forward to continue developing the team.”
The 34-year-old Pellizotti, fifth at the Trofeo Melinda over the weekend, is back in the peloton following his controversial two-year ban linked to his biological passport.
Pellizotti was singled-out by the UCI in 2010, which cited “abnormal” numbers in his biological profile, insisting the result suggested blood manipulation.
The numbers were not convincing enough for the Italian cycling federation, which initially cleared the curly-haired climbing specialist.
The UCI challenged the case in the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won. The appeal was a benchmark decision that was viewed as an important confirmation for the passport’s effectiveness as a tool to issue bans.
Few major, WorldTour teams were interested in Pellizotti this spring when his ban ended, especially in light of UCI rules that say that a rider’s points earned in two seasons after a return from a doping ban cannot be counted toward a team’s world ranking.
Savio, who has a long track record of giving embattled riders a second chance, was more than happy to offer Pellizotti a lifeline.
“It was impossible for him to race the Giro with us this season,” said Savio. “He will take aim for some important races in the second half of the season, including the Giro di Lombardia, and prepare for next year’s Giro.”
Over the years, Savio has given several riders coming off bans a chance to rejoin the Italian peloton, including the likes of Davide Rebellin and Michele Scarponi, now a team leader at WorldTour squad Lampre-ISD.
Things are not so rosy for another one of Savio’s protégés, however.
José Rujano, the pint-sized Venezuelan climber who abandoned the Giro this year without making much of an impression, made recent claims that he was suffering from mononucleosis. Savio sent out a scathing press statement Tuesday, debunking the argument that Rujano’s early Giro exit was precipitated by a medical condition.
“(Dr. Luca) Romano has confirmed that Rujano did not suffer from any pathology which could prevent him from finishing the race. In the morning meetings of the first 17 stages, Rujano himself had always said he was feeling well,” Savio said. “Therefore the rider’s withdrawal — three days before the end of the Giro — has no justification.”
In an interview with VeloNews during last month’s Giro, Savio laid into Rujano and questioned his professionalism.
“Thankfully, his contract with us ends at the conclusion of the season,” Savio said. “I was the one who brought him to Europe and nursed him through the 2005 Giro, when he was third. After all of his problems, no one wanted to touch him. And then I gave him a second chance last season. After this, there will be no more chances. We are finished with him.”