By Andrew Hood
Italian police swooped down in the Giro d’Italia in an early morning raid Wednesday to search the rooms of seven racers as part of a nationwide investigation into sports fraud.
Race leader Damiano Cunego’s Saeco teammates Eddy Mazzoleni and Alessandro Spezialetti were among seven riders questioned by police in the 4 a.m. raid. Other riders searched included Fabio Sacchi (Fassa Bortolo); Mario Scirea and Alessio Galletti (both Domina Vacanze); Giuseppe Muraglia (Pinzolo Fiave); and Ruggero Marzoli (Acqua & Sapone).
Simultaneous searches were also conducted on the riders’ homes. No charges were filed, and no illegal doping products were found, police said.
“Naturally we were surprised when they came to search the hotel, but we have nothing to hide,” said Saeco team manager Claudio Corti. “The police were discreet, professional, and they found nothing. I hope the fans understand that.”
More than 100 search warrants were issued nationwide as part of a coordinated raid that searched the homes of some of Italy’s top athletes, including Guiseppe Gibilisco, the world pole-vault champion, and Nicola Vizzoni, the silver medalist in the hammer throw at the Sydney Olympic Games.
The raids were part of a lengthy investigation into the illegal use and distribution of drugs in sport, which is a criminal offense in Italy. On Wednesday, 138 search orders were issued by a Rome prosecutor.
The raids brought back bad memories for the Giro, which has been crippled with doping scandals since Marco Pantani’s controversial expulsion while leading the 1999 Giro. Pantani’s ban began a toxic spiral that ended in the February death of the winner of the 1998 Giro and Tour de France, victim of an apparent cocaine overdose.
Police pounced again on the Giro in 2001 in the so-called San Remo raids, where riders tried to hide products and jumped out of hotel windows as police searched rooms.
Fassa Bortolo sacked rider Dario Frigo after he admitted to having banned performance-enhancing drugs, including the banned blood substitute Hemassist. Frigo later returned to the team, but did not start this year’s Giro. Pantani also served a six-month ban after insulin syringes were found in his hotel room during the 2001 Giro.
The 2002 Giro was also rocked with scandal after race leaders Stefano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni were both kicked out of the race after failing tests. Simoni tested positive for cocaine, but was later cleared after insisting the traces of the drug were found in candies his mother-in-law brought from South America. Garzelli, a winner in 2000, failed tests for the masking agent Probenicid.