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Italy rolling out doping bans

  • By Gregor Brown
  • Published Dec. 6, 2013
Mauro Santambrogio won stage 14 at the 2013 Giro. After the race ended, it was revealed that he failed a test for EPO. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

MILAN, Italy (VN) — The 2013 cycling season is over, but the Italian justice system is in full swing. Earlier this week, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) banned Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), recommended a two-year ban for Francesco Reda (Androni) and scheduled even more hearings. Next on its menu: Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing), Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) and Lampre’s Giuseppe Saronni.

“It’s certainly not a great thing,” Di Luca said, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, after leaving the hearing in Rome Thursday. “I feel like I’m paying for everyone.”

To some fans it seems as though everyone in Italian cycling doped, but that is certainly not the case. The Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA), CONI’s disciplinary arm, sees less action these days than five to 10 years ago, when Ettore Torri was its head prosecutor. A few side dishes sit upon the court’s table along with the main dish, the fallout from the Mantova investigation.

Mantova investigation

The committee recommended three weeks ago that Ballan serve a two-year ban for his ties to the Mantova investigation. It suggested life for Guido Nigrelli, the pharmacist at the center of the case. Nigrelli’s assistant, Fiorenzo Bonazzi is looking at seven years.

In total, 28 heads are anticipated to roll, including team Lampre’s general manager, Giuseppe Saronni and 2004 Giro d’Italia winner, Damiano Cunego.

The investigation revolved around Nigrelli’s Mantova pharmacy in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region. In 2008 and 2009, Lampre staff allegedly sent several of their riders to Nigrelli for illegal drugs. According to leaked documents in La Gazzetta, Ballan, the 2008 world road champion, used human growth hormone, blood transfusions and EPO in 2009, when he rode for Lampre.

Bad wine

Di Luca and Santambrogio turned team’s Vini Fantini-Selle Italia Giro d’Italia into a nightmare, as both Italians tested positive for EPO. Officials announced Di Luca failed a pre-Giro test on the day snow forced the organizer to cancel its Val Martello stage, May 24. The Santambrogio announcement came after the Giro, where the rider tested positive on day one, won a stage to Bardonecchia and placed ninth overall.

“The Killer” Di Luca won the 2007 Giro winner under suspicion and has previously served two other bans before receiving the lifetime sanction. The court also fined him €35,000 and ordered him to pay for tests other related fees.

Santambrogio rode for Lampre and made the Mantova prosecutor’s list of 28. Late this year, amid uncertainty about his B-sample, he threatened to kill himself in a message on Twitter. He now faces court time and a ban. Labs confirmed his cheating, and authorities are due to recommend a sentence for Santambrogio in the coming month.

The second division team lost its wine sponsor and failed to make the 2014 Giro’s invitation long-list. It goes by the name YellowFluo now and regardless, keeps hope that it will return to the Giro.

Riccò and Reda

CONI recommended a two-year ban for Reda for evading an anti-doping test. Ahead of the GP Camaiore in February, Reda refused a urine test. He responded in an open letter Thursday, “I didn’t avoid testing. I don’t merit two years.”

Riccardo Riccò is also upset with CONI. He told Spain’s Marca newspaper that the committee is acting unfairly in its sentencing. He said that his 12-year-suspension is “exaggerated.” He added that he was doing what the rest of the world was doing when he tested positive at the 2008 Tour de France following two stage wins.

“The Cobra” returned from his doping ban and raced with teams Ceramica Flaminia and Vacansoleil. At the start of 2011, he nearly died while trying to transfuse his own blood. CONI banned him again, this time for 12 years. He appealed the sentence but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed his case. The court said CONI acted properly.

The court’s decision was a confidence booster for CONI, which has plenty on its plate and is hard at work this off-season.

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown

Bikes kept Gregor Brown out of trouble growing up in Oklahoma — BMX, freestyle and then watching Greg LeMond's Tour de France wins on CBS television's weekend highlights shows. The drama of the 1998 Tour, however, truly drew him into the fold. With a growing curiosity in European races and lifestyle, he followed his heart and established camp on Lake Como's shores in 2004. Brown has been following the Giro, the Tour and every major race in Europe since 2006. He will tell you it is about the "race within the race" – punching out the news and running to finish – but he loves a proper dinner, un piatto tipico ed un vino della zona.

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