It appears cycling has found its new “Mr. Sixty Percent.”
Jimmi Briceño, a Venezuelan who won the Vuelta a Táchira for a second time in January and was poised to join Androni Giocattoli later this year, tested off the charts in recent blood screenings as part of UCI-ordered tests to complete his biological passport.
According to reports in the Diario de Andes, Briceño tested with a hematocrit level of 63, well above the UCI-imposed health limit of 50 percent. He also revealed a hemoglobin level above 21, also considered abnormally high.
While the results do not equate to a positive doping control, they do spell the end of Briceño’s hopes to join Italy’s Androni Giocattoli team later this season.
Speaking to VeloNews via telephone from Malaysia, where he is attending the Tour de Langkawi, team manager Gianni Savio said he was no longer interested in Briceño.
“First off, we never had a contract signed with Briceño. I always insist to see the health indicators from the biological passport before signing anyone,” Savio told VeloNews on Thursday. “Today a hematocrit of 63 is just crazy. It seems unbelievable.”
Savio said that, after learning about the abnormally high levels, he would not sign Briceño to join the team, which includes important backing from the Venezuelan government and cycling federation. The veteran Italian manager recently penned a one-year extension with the Venezuelans to continue their support of his UCI Pro Continental team for the third straight year.
Part of that agreement, which Savio says is building toward the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, calls for a strong presence of Venezuelan riders on the team.
Current Venezuelan riders include Jackson Rodríguez, Yonder Godoy, and Carlos Ochoa. Briceño was slated to be one of two Venezuelan riders to join the team later this season. The other, Táchira runner-up Carlos Galviz, 24, passed his biological passport screenings, and will soon join Savio.
“Galviz passed his screenings, so we want him, but Briceño, no,” Savio continued. “We are very strict on this point. We always want to see the medical situation of our riders, and the biological passport helps us. I was surprised to see these levels of hematocrit.”
Savio said he no longer gives riders a “second chance,” reversing a policy of offering contracts to those coming off racing bans, insisting they race clean. Savio told VeloNews late last year he had changed the policy that saw him hire controversial riders like Danilo Di Luca and Franco Pellizotti.
Savio also said he would continue his quest for undiscovered Venezuelan talent, and he is bringing on two younger riders later this summer as stagiaires. His big find was José Rujano, who burst onto the European scene in 2005 by riding onto the Giro d’Italia podium in his first year with Savio. The two later had a bitter falling out.
Savio is convinced that the 19-year-old Carlos Jiménez, who will join Androni as a stagiaire later this season, could be his next diamond in the rough. In fact, Savio has already signed him to a four-year contract.
“He is very much like José Rujano, who I also discovered, but, fortunately, Jimenez has a very different mentality than Rujano. Rujano is a man of low moral character, and treated us badly. In fact, I kicked him off the team, and we do not have any more contact with him,” Savio said. “We call Jimenez ‘Rujanito’ (Little Rujano), but fortunately, he’s nothing like Rujano off the bike.”