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Vini Fantini nears its end in wake of doping cases

MILAN (VN) — The Vini Fantini-Selle Italia squad, in the wake of Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio’s doping cases, will likely fold this winter. The sponsors are not interested in continuing and general manager Angelo Citracca only gives his team a 25 percent chance of continuing.

“If we lose the main and co-sponsor, I don’t see how we can continue going,” Citracca told Italian newspaper Il Tirreno. “We’ve made a request to the UCI to continue in the second division, but how things are going, I’d give it only a 25 percent chance that we race next year.”

The EPO positives of Di Luca and Santambrogio in the Giro d’Italia, the team’s most important race of the year, rocked the foundations. Di Luca, back from a previous doping suspension, tested plosive in a pre-Giro control and was booted in the final week. Santambrogio waved the team’s florescent yellow flag the strongest, winning the stage to Jafferau, but his fall was the hardest. Days after the Giro ended, the UCI announced the positive EPO anti-doping control. Santambrogio’s stage win and his ninth-place overall finish went down the drain.

“It was a terrible blow. Five years of work, commitment and professionalism were wiped out in two days,” sport director Luca Scinto told Italy’s Tutto Bici in August. “Unfortunately, we relied on riders who weren’t men.”

Citracca and Scinto started the Italian team in 2009, allowing new pros to find their feet and others a chance to rebound. Giovanni Visconti and Filippo Pozzato found their way again in Vini’s bright yellow colors, while Andrea Guardini and Oscar Gatto made names for themselves. Guardini joined first-division team Astana over the winter and Gatto is linked to Cannondale for 2014.

Di Luca and Santambrogio caused the most waves, though. As Scinto said, the blow wiped out the team. Critics say that Vini Fantini had it coming to them. Di Luca already served two separate doping bans and Santambrogio left BMC Racing in mysterious circumstances.

“I’d no longer sign riders with a questionable past, with bad rumors buzzing around them,” Scinto said last month. “And riders who are gifted to you.”

“Di Luca and Santambrogio are to blame, 100 percent,” Citracca added yesterday. “The financial crisis doesn’t come into play; in fact, we were going full speed up until the 2013 Giro.”

Vini Fantini owner Valentino Sciotti was a big fan and insisted on hiring Di Luca. Citracca put the blame on the riders’ shoulders but he agreed to bring them on board.

Sciotti and Selle Italia are now leaving the team; that is the plan, at least. Citracca said that he has until the end of September but believes in the worst. Di Luca and Santambrogio are waiting on the doping confirmations, their B samples, but they will likely never pedal a bike with a racing number on it again.

They leave around a dozen staff members and 23 riders looking for work. Rafael Andriato, Daniele Colli, Mauro Finetto, Yonathan Monsalve, Luigi Miletta, and Mattia Pozzo must wait for official closure notice from Citracca as they have contracts through 2014. Like most, though, they must start finding new teams as the Vini Fantini chapter ends.