Yesterday, as Milan-based sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport published fresh accusations concerning BMC's Alessandro Ballan, it was revealed that another Italian rider has tested positive for EPO, Pasquale Muto of Miche-Guerciotti. The news coincides with Spanish website Biciclismo reporting that the UCI Continental team has signed Davide Rebellin, who would be joining former Gerolsteiner team mate Stefan Schumacher on its roster. Both have recently returned from two-year bans for doping.
In April 2009, it was announced that the Rebellin and Schumacher had both tested positive for CERA after retesting of samples taken at the Beijing Olympics, in which Rebellin had taken silver in the men’s road race behind Spain’s Samuel Sanchez. The Italian has since been stripped of his medal.
Prior to news of the positive test at Beijing being revealed, Schumacher was already being investigated by doping after a sample taken from him during the 2008 Tour de France, in which he held the race leader’s yellow jersey for two days, was retested. That positive test was made public six weeks after the Beijing Olympics had finished.
Regarding Muto, according to a statement from CONI the rider, who has raced with the Miche team since 2004 and won stages in the Tour of Bulgaria in 2007 and the Tour of Slovakia in 2009, tested positive for tested positive for EPO after the one-day Giro dell’Appennino last month. Muto finished fifth in that race, behind Lampre-ISD’s Damiano Cunego.
The latter is not among the 32 past and present riders and staff connected to the Lampre team, including Ballan and the team’s manager, Giuseppe Saronni, both former world champions, who have reportedly been implicated in the Mantova investigation. However, due to its depth and scale, Cunego has inevitably also fallen under a degree of suspicion.
The timing of CONI’s announcement regarding Muto together with Miche’s recruitment of Rebellin add more fuel to what is already a highly inflammable issue within the sport and of course in Italy, where there has been a succession of high profile doping-related stories in the press this year.
Those include not just the Mantova investigation or Riccardo Ricco's well documented and misguided experiments with DIY blood transfusions, but also the recent high profile banning by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) of several riders including former Liquigas star Franco Pellizotti based on anomalies in their biological passport profiles.
Stripped of all his race results since May 2009, Pellizotti is banned until May 2nd, 2012, and has been stripped of his third-place finish at the 2009 Giro d'Italia, his King of the Mountains title at the 2009 Tour de France, and ordered to pay the UCI a $160,000 fine, despite having been initially cleared by CONI of any wrongdoing. The UCI subsequently appealed his case to CAS and won.
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.