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PAU, France (VN) — Tadej Pogačar expressed support for UAE-Team Emirates general manager Mauro Gianetti after being questioned Thursday about Gianetti’s ties to riders who had received doping suspensions.
The 57-year-old Gianetti was manager of the Saunier Duval-Prodir team more than a decade ago that had a high-profile doping case involving Riccardo Riccò in 2008. He was also head of the Geox-TMC team of Juan José Cobo, whose 2011 Vuelta a España title was eventually stripped for doping.
On Thursday afternoon journalists asked Pogačar if he had concerns or worries about his association with Gianetti, who is now running the UAE Emirates team as general manager.
“I can only speak for myself,” Pogačar said. “If I need to say something, it was in the past. When I met Mauro, he was really great to me, and he is a super good person. I believe what is in the past is in the past, and this new cycling is a way more beautiful sport than before. I can only speak for myself.”
Those comments Thursday were the first public remarks from Pogačar about Gianetti, who has not been readily available to the media during this Tour.
Questions about Gianetti’s past have swirled within the Tour’s press corps throughout the 2021 race, as Pogačar has steadily built a commanding lead during 18 stages. However, before Thursday, nobody had asked the yellow jersey, or his manager, to comment on Gianetti.
Gianetti, who won the 1995 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, rarely speaks about his racing past or the alleged doping practices involving some of his former riders.
In a comment released to VeloNews, Gianetti said Thursday that fans and media should believe riders of cycling’s new generation.
“First of all, I am pleased with Tadej’s words and they represent the reality that we are witnessing a new beautiful period in cycling,” Gianetti told VeloNews in a statement. “Today, I, like many other team managers, can believe in this sport and in this new generation. Before as a manager it was impossible to totally trust riders.”
Mauro Gianetti says cycling ‘a very different culture and mentality’
Gianetti is a key figure in Pogačar arrival to the WorldTour and his emergence as a Tour winner.
In 2017, Gianetti helped bring on the United Arab Emirates as the main backers of the team when it was formed following the closure of Lampre-Merida.
Gianetti recruited and signed Pogačar, winner of the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir, to a long-term contract with UAE-Team Emirates, which runs through 2026.
Gianetti’s comments to VeloNews are his first public statements during this Tour to the media about his previous stint as a team manager.
“It was a very different culture and mentality,” Gianetti told VeloNews. “I still have nightmares of my time managing previous teams, nowadays I sleep a lot better.”
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) July 15, 2021
The rapid rise and stunning success of Pogačar, who became the youngest Tour winner in the modern era in 2020, is prompting some to raise questions about links between Gianetti’s past and Pogačar’s current success.
Gianetti was team manager at Saunier Duval, which left the 2008 Tour de France after Riccò, and later Leonardo Piepoli, tested positive for CERA, a new form of EPO. Both riders were later fired from the team, and management insisted it was not directly involved in the scandal.
In 2011, Cobo was racing on Gianetti’s team at Geox-GMC when the Spaniard won the Vuelta only to see his victory disqualified following inconsistencies in his biological passport that suggested doping. Chris Froome, who finished second to the Spanish rider, was later awarded the overall title.
Also read: Why Pogačar won’t release his power numbers
Without speaking in detail about what happened with his teams, Gianetti said today’s riders should not bear the burden of mistakes in cycling’s sometimes notorious past.
“The systems the sport has put in place now have completely transformed cycling,” Gianetti said. “I understand the current crop of riders are suffering from mistakes of the past, but I’m confident cycling as a sport has changed and we can be proud and trust in what we are seeing. We are witnessing something special in this new generation of riders.”
Pogačar’s continued dominance in the Tour has sparked concerns from some skeptics who question his winning ways, despite no hints of suspicion in his power numbers or anti-doping controls.
Team officials pointed out that Pogačar’s power numbers and other parameters remain unchanged from 2020.
Team officials insist the team’s management strictly follows all anti-doping policies and protocols adopted across the WorldTour, and push back against the notion that Pogačar’s performances are in any way suspicious.
Yellow jersey insists peloton is not entering ‘Pogačar Era’
Earlier in the Tour, Pogačar defended his performances, citing crashes of some of his key rivals and that his biggest margins came during the time trial and a long-distance attack in cold, wet weather in the Alps.
The Slovenian also said a steady string of anti-doping controls “prove [critics] wrong.”
“I think we have many controls to prove them wrong,” Pogačar said on the Tour’s first rest day. “I know, for example, that yesterday, I had three controls in one day – two before the stage and one after. So I think that gives enough weight to prove them wrong.”
Following his second straight mountaintop stage victory in the yellow jersey, Pogačar shot down suggestions Thursday that the peloton is now entering a new era of singular dominance.
“I don’t consider myself as the Pogačar Era. That is stupid in my opinion,” he said. “For sure a new generation is coming. We see so many youngsters stepping up to the highest level, and I think it’s a nice era of cycling. We will see a lot of battles between everybody.”
The question to Pogačar about Gianetti came on the same day French police searched the Bahrain-Victorious team overnight in Pau.
Some 50 police officers checked rooms, luggage, the team bus, and other team vehicles. Some data files were taken away, but there were no formal charges, and the Bahrain-Victorious riders started Thursday’s stage.
In Thursday’s press conference journalists asked Pogačar about the police investigation, and he said he supported efforts by police to follow up on any possible leads.
“I don’t know what to say about this. It’s something completely strange,” Pogačar said when queried about the searches. “It is just one more control to see that nobody is hiding anything. The results of the raid were good. I don’t know how to comment more about this, we just found out in the morning. It’s one more thing to control the sport.”