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RCS Sport fires Giro d’Italia race director Acquarone

MILAN, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia organizer dismissed race director Michele Acquarone today over a fraud investigation involving 13 million euros ($17.6 million) that went missing, according Italy’s La Presse website. Acquarone will hold a press conference Thursday with Paolo Bellino, reported to be the new race boss.

La Presse reported other shakeups as well. In addition to Acquarone, RCS Mediagroup fired media relations director Matteo Pastore and former CEO Giacomo Catano.

RCS began the investigation of its sports subsidiary, RCS Sport, at the end of September. It suspended Acquarone with pay immediately as a precautionary measure.

Few details followed. In fact, RCS Mediagroup only released one statement in October that acknowledged the investigation. Financial newspaper Milano Finanza reported the other details, saying $17.6 million went missing and announced that RCS suspended Acquarone and Pastore. The report added that administrative director Laura Bertinotti quit and Catano switched departments.

Once outside investigators took over, RCS replaced chairman Flavio Biondi with Raimondo Zanaboni. Without a race director, Zanaboni presented the 2014 route October 7 in Milan. The race starts in Belfast, Northern Ireland on May 9, likely without Acquarone.

The 41-year-old from Sanremo says he had nothing to do with the stolen money. He told VeloNews two months ago, “I know there are people that may think I have a hand in this incident, but I’ve always worked with transparency.”

He was not available to confirm today’s news when contacted by VeloNews for this story. La Presse reported that RCS Mediagroup issued a statement but company representatives did not respond to a VeloNews request for comment.

If true, it ends a two and a half year run for Acquarone — the shortest for a Giro patron. Armando Cougnet first directed the Giro in 1909. Acquarone, the fifth director, took over from Angelo Zomegnan in the summer of 2011. He told VeloNews at the time that he considered the days of a Giro boss or patron over. He explained that RCS Sport works as a team to run its races.

Giro technical director Mauro Vegni agrees. “I’m not doing all the work here, it’s teamwork and sometimes, for different reasons, the team changes,” Vegni told VeloNews in October. “It’s important that the team’s health is good.”

The RCS Sport team also organizes stage races Tirreno-Adriatico and the Dubai Tour, and one-day races Milano-Sanremo, Roma Maxima, Strade Bianche, and Il Lombardia. It also leads the Milan City marathon in April.

This weekend, Italy’s Tutto Bici website reported that RCS Mediagroup is leaning toward Paolo Bellino as the next Giro director. The Italian from Piedmont is a former track and field athlete and currently serves as the Italian Athletics Federation’s secretary general.

More information will come in Thursday’s press conference, scheduled for noon local time, when Acquarone will have his say.