Monday, June 3, 2013

Santambrogio EPO Positive adds to Vini Fantini's woes

Many of us fans were disappointed to hear the announcement during the Giro d’Italia that “The Killer”, Danilo Di Luca returned a positive test for EPO. Today the UCI announced that Di Luca’s Vini Fantini-Selle Italia teammate Mauro Santambrogio has also returned an “adverse analytical finding” for EPO, and has been suspended. Two of the Pro Continental team’s most competitive riders have now tainted the image of the entire team and the sport of professional cycling. In an already cloudy atmosphere where the sport is trying to rebuild its image—and providing these tests are verified--this news should come as an affront to everyone involved in cycling.

Vini Fantini Directeur Sportif Luca Scinto was quick to criticize and distance himself from the offenders:
"You're right. Massacre me. I trusted them. They're mad and I'm an idiot to believe them. They're crazy and sick," he tweeted Monday.

Santambrogio (left) is third rider from 2013 Giro, and second of his team to return a positive doping result

Santambrogio had never been a Grand Tour contender before, but often excelled at one-day races. His climbing and stamina seemed to improve, and at age 28, he was having the season of his career before... of the EPO positive went public today. His best result in 2012 was 4th place in the late season Classic, Il Lombardia. In 2013 he had been impressing at several stage races, including 6th overall at the Tour de San Luis in January, 7th at Tirreno Adriatico in March, and 2nd place in April’s Giro del Trentino. Along the way he also picked up a lot of points in one-day races, including a win at the GP Industria & Artigianato just before the Giro d’Italia began. Santambrogio won stage 14 at the Giro d’Italia, the mountaintop finish stage to the Jafferau—a stage that saw the extraction of the 2035-meter Sestriere climb from the middle of the profile (the first stage alteration as a result of the terrible weather the race encountered). He had started fading in the third week, but still managed a 9th place finish at the end of the Giro--far better than at any previous Grand Tour.

Pro-conti teams need to score valuable points and show they can contend in big races if they hope to earn invitations to major races and hopefully graduate to a World Tour license. And let’s not forget that RCS Sport, the organizers of the Giro d’Italia, went out of their way to honor the four highly coveted wildcard team invitations after the mid-season reinstatement of Team Katusha’s World Tour license. They skirted the 22-team max regulation and made accommodations for 23 teams to compete in the race. (By contrast, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España will only have three wildcard teams each.)

Vini Fantini’s offending riders must have left an especially stinging slap in the face of race director Michele Aquarone, who showed great consideration for the riders by adjusting the Giro race route when horrible weather made conditions unsafe. Di Luca had been suspended and sanctioned before, so he was fortunate that Vini Fantini hired him just before the Giro to give him an opportunity that he just flouted and squandered.

I can only assume these dopers continue to do it because they have experience knowing that they get away with it more often than not. I am saddened, but not at all surprised that these two were doping, based on their GDT results. 28-year-old Santambrogio just surrendered what could have been the most productive years of his career. Every time someone is busted for EPO it makes me think that ten times as many are getting away with it. Now I look at Vini Fantini with increased scrutiny. Should we doubt Mateo Rabottini or any others who put in impressive attacks or led breakaways and chases? Should we believe that no one in the Italian team’s ranks knew about the cheating? At least Garzelli was so unimpressive in the race that I don't really suspect him now—this time.

I get a thrill out of watching riders endure the climbs and the weather and all the challenges that come their way. Along with the diverse scenery and international appeal, the perseverance, the endurance and the willpower amid intense suffering are the most addictive aspects of cycling to me. But any day of the week, I would rather see a brave but failed escape, than a "performance enhanced" win.

No comments:

Post a Comment