Bad times: Italy reeling from Santambrogio, Di Luca doping cases

The skies over Italy have darkened with the news of two riders having tested positive for EPO before and during the Giro

MILAN (VN) — Italy wakes up with a black eye this morning, after getting punched and having its money stolen. What were supposed to be happy times — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), an Italian winning the Giro d’Italia, and the world championships happening later this year in Florence — has been spoiled. Mauro Santambrogio’s EPO doping case overnight further underlined the country’s poor state.

“This is it, I no longer have the desire to continue,” Vini Fantini-Selle Italia team director Luca Scinto told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I want to quit cycling.”

Scinto was at the headquarters of the Italian cycling federation (FCI) in Rome yesterday. The federation called him to ask about Danilo Di Luca’s EPO positive. While at the FCI offices, his phone buzzed with the news of Santambrogio’s positive. He had every reason to want to quit cycling, with two of his riders testing positive before and during Italy’s biggest race. For a second division team, which only raced thanks to a special wildcard invite, the news was dreadful.

Di Luca tested positive in a pre-race control and was kicked out on May 24. Santambrogio, the Jafferau stage winner and who finished ninth overall, failed an anti-doping control on day 1 in Naples.

The doping cases shine a bad light on Italian cycling at a time when it should have been celebrating. The Giro d’Italia was the worst weather-wise in years, but it produced memorable stages. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) struggled through downpours, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) soloed up the Col du Galibier in the snow, and Nibali sealed his overall victory in whiteout conditions on Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

Back in time

The cases take us back to Riccardo Ricco’s near-death due to a botched blood transfusion in 2011. That came on the heels of several other doping cases — Davide Rebellin, Franco Pellizotti — and rattled Italian cycling.

Like Di Luca, Ricco had already served a doping suspension and returned to racing. The federation decided then to prohibit cyclists who served bans of six or more months from its national team or from participating in the national championships. It back pedaled somewhat due to legalities and stopped applying the ban retroactively.

Giro d’Italia race director Michele Acquarone said today that trade teams should follow the same zero-tolerance policy.

“Teams,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “should no longer sign riders with a dubious past, or those who have [been] banned.”

What the Italian team does now and what Acquarone hopes trade teams will do is make a moral decision. The concept is similar to the code of conduct that teams of the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC) adhere to.

Falling on deaf ears

Italy appears quick to forget the doping scandals that rocked its beloved sport. Operación Puerto, Michele Ferrari, Ricco, Mantova and Vini Fantini make headlines, but that is about it.

Fans still cheered Di Luca. Newspapers still printed articles about Michele Scarponi, who served one ban for Operación Puerto and another for working with Ferrari. He placed fourth in the Giro last month.

Visconti took two heroic, solo stage wins on Galibier and in Vicenza. Little was asked or printed of his Ferrari-related ban over the winter. And few talked of Santambrogio’s Mantova ties and split with BMC Racing when he won on Jafferau.

“I’d rather talk about our rise in followers, the stage to Galibier or Tre Cime, or Nibali. Instead, we talk of yet another villain,” Acquarone told Italy’s Tutto Bici.

“We have a beautiful garden, reconditioned, with flowers and plants of all kinds that are the envy of the world. And we cannot have some masters allow their pooches to relieve themselves freely. We’ll clean up, but it still remains a big beautiful garden.”

The garden will remain fertile. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the UCI is about to announce a Russian cyclist tested positive for doping at the Giro.