Italian cyclist Mauro Santambrogio has spoken of how the support he received from friends and strangers alike on Twitter on Thursday night helped pull him back from the brink of suicide.
The Vini Fantini rider, currently suspended after testing positive for EPO through a sample taken after he won Stage 14 of this year’s Giro d’Italia – official results of his B sample have not been revealed yet, but it is rumoured to be negative – had not used Twitter since news of that positive test was revealed in early June.
On Thursday evening, however, he broke his silence on the social network in the most dramatic fashion possible, tweeting: “Goodbye world.” A second tweet added: “I can’t go on any more.”
If it was a cry for help, it was swiftly answered. Among those to respond was Alessandra De Stefano, who presents Italian state broadcaster RAI’s coverage of the Giro d’Italia and other races.
After trying unsuccessfully to phone him, and seriously concerned about his wellbeing, she eventually managed to contact Santambrogio via text message.
The support she and others poured out towards him helped him pull through those dark hours. “The affection I felt towards me from the internet saved me,” he explained.
Santambrogio was speaking yesterday to Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Ciro Scognamiglio in a bar near his home in Inevrigo, 25km north of Milan.
He reflected: “I reached the bottom and perhaps fell even further than that.”
The rider, who turned 29 last Monday, explained that he was now feeling better, after realising the scale of what he was contemplating, and that he planned to see a psychologist yesterday evening.
Referring to the reaction from both the public and within the sport when his positive test result for EPO was announced in June – Filippo Pozzato said that the Vini Fantini rider didn’t have “a crumb of sense in his head” – Santambrogio explained: “I have been condemned as an athlete but above all as a man, and it is the latter that has damaged me. It has hurt me deeply. I’m not a criminal.
“I went in a moment from hero to zero. It wasn’t that I might have become Giro champion, but in my own little world, in my surroundings, I felt like a little god.
“I’ve lost everything, I have become a pariah. Cycling is my life and staying away from it is hurting me.
“On Sunday, I began watching il Lombardia, my favourite race, my home one [Santambrogio lives just a few kilometres from Lecco, where the race finishes]. But I couldn’t cope with it. I turned the TV off and went to bed.”
Santambrogio revealed that he continues to get out on his bike now and again, “but it’s not the same thing.
“This summer I went to Sardinia, to get away from it all, and I took my bike but never used it.
“One time, riding near home, I heard an amateur cyclist say, ‘Santombrogio the doper, you’ve ruined cycling.’
He admitted that what others thought of him had started to play on his mind more and more, and had even begun to fantasise that strangers were talking about him, indicating fellow patrons of the bar at another table.
“Maybe they don’t know who I am. But in this type of situation, I imagine that they’re talking badly of me. It’s a difficult thing to cope with.”
But the situation regarding that positive test for EPO at the Giro, and lack of news about the B sample, means Santambrogio, suspended from racing, remains in limbo.
His lawyer – coincidentally, the daughter of one of Italian cycling’s greats, Felice Gimondi – has not yet received an official communication from the UCI about that B sample.
Meanwhile, Santambrogio is finding ways of filling up the small hours, including, perhaps improbably, working as a baker on the night shift at a bakery owned by a friend who was worried about him wrestling with his demons during sleepless nights.
“I’ve done it a few times, from 2 or 3am through to 10 or 11am. I’ve even learnt the trade.
“But to tell the truth,” he added, “I still see myself as a rider. It’s the job I’ve always dreamt of doing.”
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.