Angry riders will contest stage 19
By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright AFP2001
Cyclists and support staff in the Giro d’Italia finally set off for Alba late Thursday to prepare for Friday’s 19th stage after a day of arguments and recriminations following raids by anti-drugs police on Wednesday.
The searches had kept many riders up until the early hours of the morning, leading to the cancellation of Thursday’s 18th stage which had promised to be one of the key stages in the race.
For a while on Thursday it looked as though the riders might boycott the rest of the Giro.
World governing body the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), in a statement issued in Lausanne, Switzerland, criticized the timing of the police raids after a rest day and on the eve of the most gruelling and mountainous stage.
“Acting in this way, the Italian police consciously and undoubtedly carried a grave prejudice to the regularity and the tradition of a sporting event that is part of Italian and international heritage,” said the statement.
Earlier Thursday police said substances that could be doping products were seized during the raids by a 200-strong squad of officers on hotels being used by riders and teams in the race.
Among the products seized were caffeine, corticoids, testosterone and corticosurrenal stimulants and they will now be examined by a specialist anti-doping laboratory.
Other suspect and unlabelled medicines were found, as were vials of blood, probably taken from riders to test hematocrit levels in blood, according to the investigators.
ONCE director Manolo Saiz, who had pulled his team out of the 1998 Tour de France in protest of similar searches, was livid.
“Some riders did not get to bed until three o’clock in the morning,” he said.
In the 24 hours before the raids began French cyclist Pascal Herve and Italian Riccardo Forconi had been withdrawn by their teams after failing dope tests.
“We were very angry,” said veteran Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini, expressing the reaction to the searches.
Cipollini played a leading part in discussions that at one point appeared as though they could lead to the riders pulling out of the race.
In the end the cyclists relented after a day of frantic negotiations. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch and a leading adviser of Silvio Berlusconi, who in the coming days will be formally appointed as Italian Prime Minister following his election victory last month, were among those being kept informed of developments.
Candido Cannavo, director of the Gazzetto dello Sport newspaper which runs the race and race director Carmine Castellano, had pleaded with the riders not to withdraw from the race while sponsors also voiced their concerns.
One of the most vociferous cyclists at the meeting was Italy’s former Giro and Tour de France champion Marco Pantani who withdrew from the race earlier Thursday, citing health concerns.
Pantani has had several much-documented run-ins with the authorities in doping-related incidents and was given a three-month suspended sentence last year in one case. UCI president Hein Verbruggen said he sympathized with the anger of the riders.
“They (the riders) are very emotional and I understand that,” Verbruggen said. “I told them: ‘I want the race to continue but I understand your indignation.'”
Verbruggen insisted cycling’s governing body has EPO-related doping issues under control.
“I have always said, and I did at the 1998 Tour de France, that the judiciary must do its work. But on how they do that work there is a lot that needs to be said.” He later told reporters that he had been opposed to a boycott of Friday’s stage.
“I told the riders ‘you have given a very strong signal (by skipping Thursday’s stage). But I think not to start tomorrow would harm your cause’.”
The cancelled 18th stage would have been the Giro’s most difficult, a 230km trek from Imperia to Sant’Anna di Vinadio with several difficult climbs, some 2000m above sea level. The now-skipped stage represented second-placed Dario Frigo’s last realistic chance of overhauling fellow Italian and race leader Gilberto Simoni before Sunday’s scheduled finish in Milan.
Around 4.30 pm (1430 GMT) the meeting rooms in San Remo finally emptied as riders agreed to race and the teams set off for Alba where Friday’s 19th stage – a 163km run to Busto Arsizio – is set to begin.