MILAN (VN) — The Giro d’Italia organizer went ahead with its 2014 route presentation today without race director Michele Acquarone, who is riding out a precautionary suspension while an investigation looks into a reported €13 million in missing funds.
“Will he be the director in 2014? It depends on what happens,” Giro technical director Mauro Vegni told VeloNews. “We need to be clear: his position is not how it is written in the newspapers. He’s been asked to keep quiet, but the newspapers keep on going and going with articles. Everything has to be proved. Until something is shown, I’d like to consider that person innocent.”
Despite the ambitious route presented in the all-white Palazzo del Ghiaccio, the state of the RCS Sport’s offices across town is cloudy and confused.
Financial newspaper Milano Finanzia reported last week that RCS MediaGroup is auditing its sports subsidiary over a missing €13 million. According to the report, administrative director Laura Bertinotti resigned and CEO Giacomo Catano moved to another department as part of RCS MediaGroup’s internal investigation.
The publishing house announced an external investigation and on Friday said that chairman Flavio Biondi had resigned and Raimondo Zanaboni had taken his place. Zanaboni helped present the 2014 route on Monday.
The audit has become as important a race as the Giro itself. If RCS MediaGroup does not get a handle on the case quickly, investors could lose confidence and stop supporting RCS Sport’s events. It organizes the Giro d’Italia, Milano-Sanremo, Giro di Lombardia, and other races, and events like last Sunday’s marathon in Rome. Without financial support via sponsors and cities, the Giro’s 100-year-old foundation risks cracking.
VeloNews reached out to Acquarone, but he is unable to comment while the audit continues.
“I’ve heard from him, but not after the incident began. He needs time to get his head together. It’s like when a rider first crosses the line, he needs time to catch his breath,” Vegni added. “We’ve just finished the season. I’ll meet with him soon and we’ll talk. Clearly, I’m sorry for him on the human level because Michele is a good guy.”
Acquarone is only the Giro d’Italia’s fifth director. He took over from Angelo Zomegnan after the 2011 edition, but has worked in different roles at RCS Sport since 1999. He had his hand in organizing the 2014 grande partenza in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and creating a tight, compact course in Italy for the 97th edition. After criticism over the 2013 route, RCS Sport wanted to reduce transfers and give riders more time to recover.
Right before the news broke, Acquarone traveled to Las Vegas to present the Barolo time trial stage at the Interbike tradeshow. He told VeloNews earlier this year that he wanted to spread the Giro’s pink colors all over the world.
“I want to have the big names here,” he said. “I want the race broadcasted in all the TVs in the world. I want to have many fans who want to come from around the world to see the stages in person. Am I dreaming too much?”
The audit of RCS Sport’s financials could put the brakes on Acquarone’s dreams and see RCS MediaGroup forced into more changes. Vegni said he hoped that is not the case, but that, if a change is made at the race director position, the Giro would continue in a positive direction.
“I’m not doing all the work here, it’s teamwork and sometimes, for different reasons, the team changes,” Vegni said. “It’s important that the team’s health is good. We’ve shown today, with the new management up on stage, that team is in place and the product is good.”