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Italy keeps it clean for worlds

Nibali to lead a team of Italians without links to doping investigations, meaning Pozzato and Visconti are out

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MILAN (VN) — Italy’s objective going into the UCI Road World Championships on September 23 is not to win at all costs. In fact, it ripped the weeds from its garden in hopes of a green future.

Michele Scarponi, Giovanni Visconti and others will watch from their televisions at home. Only those Italians with a clean slate, without links to doping, will race in the Limburg’s hills.

Italian cycling federation (FCI) president Renato Di Rocco told VeloNews, “We want to continue making a strong signal.”

For the second year, any cyclist that has served a doping suspension of six months or more is ineligible for the national team. The decision eliminated Alessandro Petacchi from a sprinter-friendly parcours in Copenhagen last year. It came on the heels of several doping scandals, including Davide Rebellin’s positive test in the Beijing Olympics. The near-death of Riccardo Riccò due to a botched blood transfusion last year sealed the deal: no more dopers.

The decision keeps those cyclists off the national team and out of Italy’s prized blue jersey, the maglia azzurra, even if they can return to race for trade teams.

“I want the maglia azzurra to mean something,” Di Rocco explained. “It’s an important symbol for cyclists and we want them to merit it.”

Vincenzo Nibali, third in the Tour de France, will lead Italy at the worlds. Some of its most experienced riders, Rinaldo Nocentini and Luca Paolini, will be road captains. Support will come from a green cast: Moreno Moser is 21 years old, Diego Ulissi is 23, Oscar Gatto is 27, Elia Favilli is 23, Eros Capecchi is 26 and Dario Cataldo is 27. National team director Paolo Bettini will finalisz the names in the coming week.

The federation also overlooked riders under investigation. Alessandro Ballan, the 2008 world champion, Damiano Cunego and others involved in the Mantova investigation will stay home. As will Giovanni Visconti, who is in form but linked to Lance Armstrong’s banned trainer Michele Ferrari.

“No one says that these guys are left out because of their cases: first they have to merit the selection and show that they are in form,” Di Rocco said. “Visconti has the ability to do well in the worlds, but there’s an open case and we are forced to say no. The CONI prosecutor says he has the evidence and I trust him.”

Filippo Pozzato nearly spoiled it for the Squadra Azzurra in London. He was tipped to lead the team, but in the final hours, a newspaper report linked his name to Ferrari. Before the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) could recommend him a one-year suspension, the federation struck him from the Olympic list. If Italy upholds his ban, Pozzato will never race in the national team again.

Cycling is the only sport in Italy with such a ban in place, but with around 200 registered professionals the rule affects many. The ban is similar to the sanction that the British Olympic Association (BOA) enforced up until July, one which forced out not only cyclists like David Millar, but athletes from all other disciplines with a tainted past.

The World Anti-Doping Agency fought the BOA ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport earlier this year and won, but the decision did not impact the FCI policy because it only deals with Olympic bodies like BOA and CONI. The Association of Italian professional riders (ACCPI) is threatening legal action, saying riders like Visconti cannot be excluded unless they have had their “fair process.”

Di Rocco is not worried. He said, “All the riders who’ve been involved in doping cases have always initially said they are not linked!”