Doping: Padua magistrate says nothing has changed in cycling

Italian investigator says doping still rampant, including two new undetectable variants of EPO

by Simon_MacMichael   January 2, 2013  

Syringe

Benedetto Roberti, the Italian magistrate leading the Padua investigation into doping, tax evasion and money laundering within professional cycling centred around the banned doctor Michele Ferrari, says that the use of performance enhancing drugs within the peloton is still rampant, including new undetectable versions of EPO.

In an extensive interview with the Italian cycling magazine Tuttobici, published in its January issue under the headline ‘Nulla è cambiato’ – ‘Nothing has changed’ – and also made available on its website, the magistrate paints a squalid picture of the sport running from amateur riders talking part in Gran Fondo rides right up to the top levels.

Roberti recounted how cyclists interviewed as part of his investigation revealed that a type of EPO called EPO Z, for which there is currently no test, was being widely used, while in 2012 a Chinese variant of EPO had been launched which he described as the “Queen of the Games” at London 2012.

The drug AICAR, also undetectable under the current regime and which rebuilds muscle fibres after stress, was also a concern, as was the use of human growth hormone, as well as human haemoglobin, used to reduce for high haemocratic levels.

According to Roberti, anyone insisting that cycling had turned a corner and that the sport was now drug free did not have its interests at heart, as proved by the use of the products he outlined which he added were often of doubtful provenance, carrying increased risks for the athlete’s health as a result.

Rather than organised doping, he said, dopers are increasingly taking the initiative themselves. “There are wizards,” he explained, a reference to Michele Ferrari-style figures, “but riders are often doing everything alone.”

Roberti called for more money to be put into the battle against doping, including at youth level where he believes aspiring riders needed more protection, and said that tighter checks needed to be carried out on people involved in the sport at that level in roles such as coaching who had themselves ridden during the 1980s and 1990s to ensure that the sport could make a clean break with the past.

The magistrate revealed that he had started riding road bikes in his mid-30s and had been shocked by the open culture of drug taking there, which he said was in some ways worse than what happened in the professional ranks.

“I’ve seen so many people who take cortisone suppositories shortly before the ride gets under way, on the start line, in front of everyone. And participants who inject themselves with every kind of natural substance," he revealed.

He described seeing riders “of a certain age” managing to maintain speeds of 60 kilometres an hour for two hours straight, something he said “leaves you open-mouthed.”

He added: “The problem is that in cycling, it’s not ignorance that rules, but the most absolute stupidity. And stupidity is much worse than ignorance. It’s more difficult to educate people, to make them understand,” he went on, citing the case of people who use Ventolin as though it was a honey-flavoured cough sweet, not looking after their health, doing everything they could to reach the finish before their friends – a situation he described as “bizarre.”

With the results of the Padua investigation due to be published in the coming weeks, Roberti declined to be drawn on the specifics of the inquiry. However, it’s clear that when the findings are made public, cycling is in line for another series of scandalous headlines.

“Look, I’ve seen things during these past few years that you couldn’t even imagine,” Roberti said in conclusion.

“I’m not excluding anything. I don’t put my hand in the fire, but I don’t overlook anything. And I’ve learnt to never trust certain people. Anything but poor darlings – the riders are the true culprits. First the riders, then DSs or team managers. But it’s always them. That’s where everything starts and finishes. The rest is just words. Believe me.”

17 user comments

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It's the continuing problem: everyone has to lay their guns on the floor together and then no one want to pick them up ever again. It just will never happen. 2012 was soured for me a little by what I thought were a few 'extraordinary' performances during the Vuelta and now we have the explanation. A miserable way to start 2013. Sad

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1059 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 11:18

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Blimey, he's not mincing his words is he?! Here we go again...

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3200 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 11:39

1 Like

How depressing...so if a fair few of the peleton are doping this must cast doubt on those self-professed clean riders at the front and winning?? Including our very own Wi... I can't bring my self to say it... Crying

posted by headfirst [81 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 11:42

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headfirst wrote:
How depressing...so if a fair few of the peleton are doping this must cast doubt on those self-professed clean riders at the front and winning?? Including our very own Wi... I can't bring my self to say it... Crying

The Padua investigation has got nowt to do with Sky and certain other teams. And the Gran Fondo problem in Italy is fairly well-known - nothing new there.

Now, why is the magistrate leading a high-level investigation, talking to the press? In Italy, the law and politics are very entwined. Is Roberti trying to drum up some PR for himself? There's more to this than meets the eyes.

posted by Sam1 [219 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 11:56

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@Mercuryone - agreed re the vuelta, there was a couple of performances there that didn't smell right.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3200 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 12:22

1 Like

notfastenough wrote:
@Mercuryone - agreed re the vuelta, there was a couple of performances there that didn't smell right.

Agreed also.

In other news, I read the other day what bears do in the woods and I was disgusted.

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [871 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 14:37

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@sam1, I agree, its all a bit too emotive and transparent. Why is a judge talking about what he has seen over these past few years. Was he not briefed just to preside over and report/judge upon the 'Padua' case. I guess he has a book contract on the go too. PR now wont hurt Sad

I also genuinely believe there is less drug taking now. After 100 years of it, no change will happen in one season, thats crazy to believe. As said, here we go again Crying

Ah, but that was then

posted by Pitstone Peddler [104 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 15:17

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As it says in the article, he didn't talk about specifics of the Padua investigation. Pretty obvious why a cycling magazine would want to talk to someone in his role given the USPS revelations, and in the interview he set boundaries about what he was prepared to talk about.

A couple of things worth considering - in Italy, the position of magsitrate is a career one, it's a profession people enter after university and since we're talking a continental inquisitorial legal system, it's not the same as the judiciary here or in the US, say... think of his position as more akin to that of a public prosecutor, but with police-style powers of investigation.

Secondly, it's not atypical for prosecutors/magistrates in Italy to go public with interviews etc to fight their corner because no-one else is going to do it for them and will be pushing their own interests... there's a storm coming and in part I think this is Roberti staking out his territory ahead of that, for example in the full interview he says he'd willingly have met with FCI president Renato di Rocco but that hasn't happened (whether he actually asked for a meeting is unclear).

From the political bribery scandals of the 1990s onwards the magistracy in Italy has faced accusations of being politically motivated and following its own agenda (probably justified criticism in some cases)... so in an Italian context, the interview with someone like Roberti is pretty much standard operating practice and not as controversial as some others touching on eg political issues.

It can certainly look strange to people outside though, I agree with that...but it's just part of the way Italy operates, for better or worse.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8122 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 15:44

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Got to be honest, this smells like a publicity stunt for the magistrate. A lot of hyperbole and sensationalism in this, but no facts or real examples (older riders keeping up 60km/h for two hours? Really? That's faster than Cancellara on a good day).

No-one suggested that cycling was completely clean now, just that the balance had shifted a bit in the last couple of years - to a point where clean riders can win and we shouldn't automatically assume that anyone winning is juiced. Whilst I accept that we have to take any claims of drug free cycling with a healthy dose of scepticism, this guy just seems to be hamming it up for the cameras and dictaphones...

posted by step-hent [683 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 15:51

1 Like

Good feedback Simon, thanks. Lets hope the main storm his report brings is gone by the the Giro. Starting off by publicly saying nothings changed, cycling is full of drugs (similar tone) doesn't look good for the spring does it. Yet more ignorant overnight expert critique from the BBC awaits no doubt.

Ah, but that was then

posted by Pitstone Peddler [104 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 16:03

6 Likes

step-hent wrote:
(older riders keeping up 60km/h for two hours?

Jack Bobridge's 4k pursuit record is 4m10 @ about 57.6k/h..

posted by c.trestler [6 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 16:47

1 Like

Gizmo_ wrote:
notfastenough wrote:
@Mercuryone - agreed re the vuelta, there was a couple of performances there that didn't smell right.

Agreed also.

In other news, I read the other day what bears do in the woods and I was disgusted.

Tell you what I'd love to see from the Vuelta, and that's Froome's SRM files. Not because I think he's juiced - just the opposite. I think he's clean and that (together with his TdF performance) gives us a baseline. He said he was a bit tired for the Vuelta, but if perchance he was pushing the same 450-460 watts on a sustained climb as was the case in July, then maybe he was expending further energy via the regular raising of his eyebrows, if you see what I mean...

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3200 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 16:51

1 Like

'He described seeing riders “of a certain age” managing to maintain speeds of 60 kilometres an hour for two hours straight...'
Bollocks!
56.375 km/h is the fastest hour record - Chris Boardman, 6 September 1996 on a now banned 'superman' bike. So this 'magistrate has seen people ride above this speed for double the distance?!
I don't think so. That's not just an exageration, it's a bare faced lie, so how can we take anything else he says with anything other than a very large pinch of salt.

posted by Dropped [36 posts]
2nd January 2013 - 23:46

2 Likes

The response to this article seems odd. More people seem to be agitated by who is commenting and not what he is saying.

I don't think the content of what he is saying is particularly political. Just the opposite. Anti-doping is a good thing, but there is no real political cache from it. If we take what he is saying about athletes regularly doping and evading tests and that the Padua investigation is likely to expose Italian riders it is likely to harm Italy's cycling/sporting progress compared to nations which do not attempt to tackle the situation.

It's all very disturbing. But if we learnt anything from the Vuelta it's that we are still firmly in the age of doping and that much has to be done to eradicate it.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1148 posts]
3rd January 2013 - 10:20

1 Like

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
Anti-doping is a good thing, but there is no real political cache from it.

There is if you are (effectively) a public prosecutor. Building a name for yourself as the high profile prosecutor who took down all those doping cyclists is clear political motivation.

I'm not saying he's lying about there being doping in cycling (we knew that already), nor that I don't want him to find it and prosecute those engaged in it. But being sensationalist about it doesn't help to eradicate it - in fact, it just makes the problem worse when those who are coming up through the sport think there's no other way to win. If he stuck to the facts, rather than veering off into hyperbole, his comments wouldn't raise so many suspicious eyebrows.

posted by step-hent [683 posts]
3rd January 2013 - 12:05

2 Likes

Yes, he's hyping it... but he is right on many levels and we should not ignore the underlying message on that basis (never embellished a story of a ride? "I was doing 90k and rolled the front tub off the rim..."

Doesn't take a great leap of imagination to look at Katusha's protour eligibility issues and the Padua investigation.

And yes, the Vuelta looked "not normal" on a couple of occasions. I think the Spanish still have an issue with attitudes to the doping problem myself.

posted by AlanD [12 posts]
5th January 2013 - 0:15

2 Likes

A prosecutor hyping it! Oh how i wish. We just have to look at who runs the sport and who controls the anti doping to see that the situation is still in the toilet.

McQuaid runs the sport, the guy who wants to be dictator for life of the UCI. And we are supposed to believe the peloton is cleaner? More unicorns.

posted by Decster [246 posts]
2nd August 2013 - 12:21

3 Likes