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Acquarone waits as RCS fraud case continues

With RCS Sport under investigation, Giro d'Italia director Michele Acquarone is still at home, in the dark

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MILAN (VN) — Giro d’Italia race director Michele Acquarone sits alone and in the dark at home as winter moves in on Milan. He knows little more than when he left the office ahead of the world championships on September 27. That Friday when he turned off his computer, RCS Sport locked him out of its investigation into €13 million in missing funds.

According to Milano Finanzia, about $9.5 million disappeared from the sports subsidiary of RCS Mediagroup. RCS called an internal investigation and suspended several staffers, including Acquarone, director of the biggest stage race behind the Tour de France.

“No,” he said when VeloNews asked Acquarone if he took money. “No, I’ve never had my hands on the money, the only money I’ve seen was represented in digits on our reports: X amount of income and X amount of costs. My goal was to make sure the accounts were in order and to make the best product possible, a long-lasting one.”

Acquarone began working with RCS Sport in 1999. He took over the director’s role, overseeing the Giro and other races including Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, in mid-2011. He helped take the race to Denmark in 2012 and to Northern Ireland, for the start of next year’s edition.

“Now I’m trying to keep my head up and keep busy, trying not slip into depression,” he told VeloNews. “That’s the big risk.”

The hardest day, he said, was watching the presentation of the 2014 Giro d’Italia on television at home in Milan. He still receives a paycheck, but has had to stay away from the office and to keep quiet as part of the investigation. Acquarone broke his two-week silence when he distributed a press release from his personal e-mail account on Oct. 11.

The internal investigation saw administrative director Laura Bertinotti quit and CEO Giacomo Catano transfered to another department. RCS suspended media relations director Matteo Pastore and Acquarone during this time. Acquarone received a letter on Oct. 1, four days after leaving the office for the Florence worlds.

RCS handed its work over to external investigators and on October 4 announced that chairman Flavio Biondi had resigned and Raimondo Zanaboni had taken his place. Acquarone watched Zanaboni present the 2014 route with part of the team that he created.

“I know there are people that may think I have a hand in this incident, but I’ve always worked with transparency,” said Acquarone. “For example, to select wildcard teams I’ve made sure a team was involved. If it was just one person, then maybe there would be a risk of someone being bribed by a person or a sponsor to have his team selected. That was my first move, to create a five-man panel to avoid these problems.”

RCS Mediagroup’s problem is bigger than the €13 million itself. If the investors the Giro d’Italia relies on lose confidence in management, they could force the brakes on 100-year-old event. Acquarone wants to return and help the race he dreamt about as a boy growing up in Sanremo.

“I hope everything is cleared up as soon as possible,” Acquarone said. “Every day at home, though, is a day that I’m not contributing to the company and to cycling. These are important moments now, cycling’s president changed and plans are being made for 2014 and beyond. I hope to return to return to work as soon as possible.”