In an unprecedented move, anti-doping authorities in Italy are seeking to ban a professional cyclist’s entire family for four years each - a combined punishment, with that being sought for the rider concerned, of 22 years - from any involvement in sport as a result of an enquiry into the use of performance enhancing drugs within cycling.
The investigation centres around the family of the former Lampre and Fasso Bartolo rider Lorenzo Bernucci, who himself faces a six-year ban if the Tribunale Nazionale Antidoping (TNA), which hears doping cases in Italy, inflicts the punishment demanded by prosecutor Ettore Torri of CONI, the Italian Olympic association.
The enquiry, which has been conducted by Padua-based magistrate Benedetto Roberti, has also involved other members of the Lampre team including Alessandro Petacchi, winner of the points competition at this year’s Tour de France, who like Bernucci hails from La Spezia in Liguria.
No action has yet been taken against Petacchi, who was told during July’s race that he had been placed under formal investigation, although reports suggest that he may be next in the firing line.
The family members for whom Torri is seeking a ban are Bernucci’s wife, mother, brother and father-in-law. Among banned substances found at the cyclist’s home when it was searched by officers from the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Finanza were perflourocarbon and human albumin – coincidentally, those are the two substances linked to the decision to investigate Petacchi.
Bernucci, whose biggest career victory came when he won Stage 6 of the 2005 Tour de France, was sacked by T-Mobile in September 2007 following a positive test for Sibutramine. His explanation was that he has been using it for four years, but had been unaware that it had been banned in 2006.
Bernucci’s family is involved in the case as a result of evidence gathered in searches and by intercepted telephone calls by investigators, and they stand accused of possession and trafficking banned drugs, administering them to the cyclist, and breaking a variety of other antidoping laws.
As well as being banned from membership of or employment with CONI or any sporting federation, they will also be banned for four years from “frequenting sporting facilities, spaces reserved for athletes and team personnel, to take part in sporting events on [Italian] national territory or those organised by sporting bodies.”
According to La Stampa, when Bernucci was interviewed in August, he sought to assume full responsibility, with the newspaper implying that he did so to help protect his family and Petacchi.
The newspaper adds that Bernucci, anticipating the end of his life as a pro cyclist, has already changed career and now owns a pastry shop.
AFP, citing the Italian news agency ANSA, says that Bernucci claims that his family has no involvement with the matter.
“I didn't expect the prosecutor (Ettore) Torri to ask for such a severe sentence," he said. "He will explain why in front of the national anti-doping tribunal and when I'm called I'll clarify my position, and then the judges will decide. I don't think my family has anything to do with it, they haven't done anything."
It’s not just at the elite levels of the sport that Italian authorities are finding themselves embroiled in the battle against drugs. According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s health minister, Ferruccio Fazio, speaking at an event to mark the 125th anniversary of the country’s cycling federation, revealed that around one in six amateur riders of 500 subjected to doping controls in the first six months of 2010 had tested positive for banned substances.
Fazio added that plans were under way to introduce a rule for the automatic suspension of amateurs who were found to have tested positive.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.