MILAN (VN) — Southeast faces a likely death sentence after a fourth doping case linked to the Giro d’Italia. The Italian Pro Continental team will race in the Tour of Slovenia next week, but its long-term future looks as gloomy as its grey kit.
Ramon Carretero, 24, failed an anti-doping test for EPO on April 22 ahead of the Tour of Turkey. He pulled out of the Giro d’Italia on stage 2 due to influenza, but it could have been because he knew a doping case was on the horizon. Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, made the news official Tuesday.
The news added to three other high-profile cases for the Italian team that raced as Vini Fantini, Yellow Fluo, and Neri Sottoli in previous seasons. The squad under general manager Angelo Citracca somehow continued, and in big events like the Giro d’Italia, over the past two years.
“I’m without words,” Citracca told Italian website Tutto Bici. “What am I going to tell the sponsors now?”
Citracca will likely have to say “ciao” to many. He had no idea about Carretero, he said, but the continued doping links to his team could be too much for many sponsors.
Southeast, a company located in Hangzhou, China, manufactures prefabricated metal panels for construction. It took over sponsorship from Neri Sottoli, which remained on the jersey that changed from neon yellow to grey for 2015. At the Giro, the team wore a white jersey, but the color could have been black given its situation.
The team participated in the last five editions of the Giro d’Italia, winning stages but making bigger headlines outside the race. Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio both rode in the 2013 Giro, but Di Luca was booted from the race when it was announced he failed a test for EPO in the leadup to the Italian grand tour. Santambrogio won stage 14 and finished ninth overall, but days after the race ended it was revealed he tested positive for EPO after stage 1. He was disqualified from the Giro after that.
Matteo Rabottini, who won a Giro stage and the mountains competition for the team in 2012, failed an out-of-competition EPO test in 2014.
Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport invited the squad to race in 2014 over other Pro Continental teams like Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka because it wanted to support Italian cycling. It was partly obliged to do so for the 2015 edition because the team won the 2014 Italian Cup series.
Citracca, as with the cases before, appeared to put the blame on Carretero.
“He represents a country,” he said. “I’m truly surprised. I don’t know what to say.”
The sponsors and organizers like RCS Sport will have the final say. Citracca was in Paris on Tuesday to meet with a potential new sponsor. However, if companies refuse to fund the team then Citracca will have to pull the brakes at the end of the 2015 season.
If the team in grey can rise from the ashes like a phoenix for the 2016 season, then RCS Sport will ultimately be the one to hand out a death penalty. Refusing Citracca’s team invitations to the Giro and its other races like Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo would equate to the end of one of cycling’s most controversial teams in the last five years.