DUKHAN, Qatar (VN) — Davide Rebellin, despite doping to win the silver medal in the 2008 Olympics, keeps racing at 44 years old. The Italian says that he did not cheat and that his younger colleagues see him an example of longevity.
This week, he is racing the Tour of Qatar alongside riders more than half his age. UnitedHealthcare’s Daniel Eaton, for example, was only two years old when Rebellin won a stage in the 1996 Giro d’Italia.
“I want to be an example of longevity. I’m showing that if one wants to, he can keep going into his 40s,” Rebellin said while he and his CCC Sprandi-Polkowice teammates prepared in their orange kits ahead of the first stage. “It’s an example. Even now many riders say to me, ‘Looking at you makes me want to consider to keep going.’ Not just the amateurs doing so, but the other professionals here in the group.”
The Italian from Veneto won the Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice general classifications, and in 2004 he swept the Ardennes classics — the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Last year, he won the Coppa Agostoni ahead of grand tour star Vincenzo Nibali, who is 13 years younger.
Those in sport, however, remember him as the first Italian to hand back an Olympic medal, a member of a notorious group that brought the public’s attention to a new super EPO, CERA. That status perhaps outweighs and overshadows any win he achieved before and after the 2008 Beijing Games.
He never admitted to cheating. He asked for the B sample to be analyzed, but it too revealed traces of the blood booster.
“No. No, I didn’t do it,” he said when asked if he doped with EPO. “Also the Olympics was a story that was … I tried to defend myself, but I never had a ruling in my favor. Now, though, I’ve won some legal cases in Italy.”
The point in his favor, he said, was that he won the criminal case against him in last May. Prosecutors had sought 500,000 euro ($559,000) in damages and a 12-month custodial sentence. In the ruling, the judge did not go against the scientific evidence that he doped.
Rebellin still sat out for two years from 2009 to 2011, and when he returned he did so in the lower ranks. Instead of top teams, such as Polti, FDJ, Liquigas, and Gerolsteiner, he has been passing his time with Continental and Professional Continental teams.
Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport invited his Polish CCC team to race the 2015 edition, but it did so while advising the team to leave Rebellin home, along with another convicted doper, Stefan Schumacher.
“For sure, the two-year suspension was very bad,” he said. “I lost contacts, teams didn’t want me, the organizers didn’t want me. My salary was cut by at least half, or even more, much more. It was not just a two-year suspension, but six or seven. I had to restart with small teams to be in a team that is a little larger now.”
Rebellin lives and trains in Monaco along the famous Côte d’Azur. He said that when he is with the younger cyclists, he tries to advise them. “I just tell them to love what they are doing above all. That’s the most important thing to being successful. For sure, doping does not make a rider; what counts the most is talent and the ability to take advantage of those natural talents,” Rebellin continued.
“How do I keep going? This is the thing that I love to do the most. I want to do it the best I can and to not have any regrets when I retire. I want to show that you can still win when you are over 40, as long as you have the will to do it.”