By Andrew Hood
Riis defends Cecchini
Luigi Cecchini is name that’s likely unfamiliar to many racing fans, but the Italian doctor’s relationship with Tyler Hamilton has garnered new interest since news broke last week that the American failed two anti-doping tests for banned blood transfusions.
While Hamilton is staunchly defending his innocence despite test results and vows to fight a possible two-year racing ban, the low-profile Cecchini is gaining unwanted attention.
Cecchini is a publicity-shy trainer who quietly works with some of the biggest names in cycling, including Michele Bartoli, star sprinter Alessandro Petacchi and 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich. In 1996, three of his clients – Pascal Richard, Rolf Sorensen and Max Sciandri – swept the Olympic men’s road race.
While trainers such as Michele Ferrari and Francesco Conconi have been investigated – a verdict is expected Oct. 1 in the Ferrari case — Italian authorities dropped an investigation against Cecchini in 2001 for lack of evidence.
One man close to both Hamilton and Cecchini is Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis. The Dane collaborated with Cecchini during his racing days that culminated in Riis’s 1996 Tour de France victory. The 60-year-old Cecchini has since helped Team CSC with coaching and training since Riis took over the helm.
Riis introduced Cecchini to Hamilton in 2002 and the pair continued their relationship following Hamilton’s departure from Team CSC to Phonak for the 2004 season.
In an interview with VeloNews, Riis strongly defended Cecchini against rumors surrounding the Hamilton case. Some Phonak officials have gone so far as to suggest if Hamilton’s case stands up, it has nothing to do with their team doctor and perhaps something to do with Cecchini.
“This (Hamilton’s case) has nothing to do with Cecchini,” Riis said. “This is a medical situation and Cecchini has nothing to do with medicine. I’ve known (Cecchini) for a very long time and I know how he works. I would never work with him if he was doing something suspicious with our riders.”
Riis said Cecchini helps key riders on Team CSC with their individual training programs as well as assists Riis train the remainder of the team.
“He’s a trainer that works with our team, that’s the only thing that he does,” Riis said. “He has nothing to do with medicine. He only works with training programs and nothing else.”
Riis said he was “shocked like everyone else” when news broke that his former pupil failed anti-doping tests. But Riis was quick to defend Cecchini and distance himself from Hamilton.
“This is (Hamilton’s) problem. You cannot blame this on anybody if he took blood from anyone else. That’s his responsibility,” Riis continued. “There are too many rumors about all this. In the end there might be only one who really knows. He has to be responsible and he’s not on my team anymore.”
Riis said he’s been swamped by calls from European media in the wake of Hamilton’s failed anti-doping tests. Riis has a high-profile relationship with Cecchini, but the Italian trainer is publicity-shy and hasn’t given an interview since the late 1990s.
“I have responsibility for my team. I don’t know what Phonak is doing,” Riis continued. “We have two doctors that tend to the rider’s medical needs and Cecchini is only working with training. None of my riders are allowed to work with a doctor outside of my team.”
Major changes at T-Mobile
Major changes are in store at T-Mobile as the German team announced longtime team boss Walter Godefroot will share leadership duties in 2005 with Olaf Ludwig and then exit the team by 2006.
Former rider Ludwig and Godefroot will jointly manage the team next year, then the Belgian Godefroot will withdraw from the team at his own request at the end of 2005, T-Mobile said in a statement. Ludwig, currently the team’s spokesman, will become the sole manager in 2006.
“Having Olaf Ludwig as manager is a big win for us because he is an organizer, tactician and a hands-on operator all in one. We will manage this transition in a professional way and hopefully enjoy more success next season,” Godefroot said.
T-Mobile also announced the addition of Valerio Piva as sporting manager. Piva, who has been recruited from cycling legend Eddy Merckx’s Belgian cycling nursery, “Vlaanderen T-Interim,” to support Frans van Looy and directeur sportif Mario Kummer.
The team also reported the rehabilitation of Rudy Pevenage. As personal adviser to Jan Ullrich, he will follow all time trials, excluding the Tour de France, from a seat in the team car. This is in accordance with the wishes of star rider Jan Ullrich.
Basso pumped with pre-worlds win
Ivan Basso (CSC) scored a morale-boosting win Saturday just a week before the world road cycling championships in Verona, Italy.
The 2004 Tour de France podium finisher won Saturday’s Giro dell’Emilia, a challenging one-day race coming just a week before the prestigious world title race.
“I felt totally on top of things today and it’s a very important victory for both me and the team. Giro dell’Emilia has been a big goal all along and I’m happy to be able to live up to the expectations,” Basso said on the team’s web page. “Now I have the perfect starting point for the world championships and Tour of Lombardy. I’m looking forward to the upcoming races.” Scarponi to Cofidis
Promising Italian rider Michele Scarponi has reportedly signed a deal to join Cofidis in 2005, according to reports in the French press.