Bruno Reverberi, manager of Bardiani-CSF, has tried to distance himself and his Italian team from the two cases of doping discovered on the eve of the Giro d'Italia as he fights to stay in the race and keep the all-Italian outfit alive.
The news that Stefano Pirazzi and Nicola Ruffoni had returned positive tests in out-of-competition doping controls carried out in late April exploded as the crowd in Alghero headed home from the team presentation on Thursday evening.
The Bardiani-CSF team had taken part in the presentation, with Pirazzi and Ruffoni riding on stage with their teammates. Photos show that both look sad and fearful. They already knew they had been caught and were about to be sent home but had to go through the pantomime of waving to the crowd and signing autographs. It seems the public confirmation of their doping cases was put back to avoid spoiling the team presentation.
However, Gazzetta dello Sport broke the news of the two cases as most Italians sat down to dinner and then the UCI quickly confirmed it with a press release, revealing that the doping product discovered was GH-Releasing Peptide (GHRP), found in out-of-competition controls on 25 and 26 April 2017, respectively.
Hiding in the hotel
The Bardiani-CSF team was staying more than an hour away from Alghero but Gazzetta dello Sport sent a reporter to the hotel to track down the team. The hotel owner locked the gates, turned off the lights and pretended the hotel was closed but Claudio Ghisalberti managed to speak to team manager Bruno Reverberi.
The 75-year-old veteran of the Italian cycling scene has experienced a series of doping cases in his team over the years. He again pleaded his innocence, insisting he and the team had not been involved in any way.
"On Wednesday, the UCI tested all the riders as usual. Then on Thursday morning they came back to only test Ruffoni and Pirazzi. That didn't add up," Reverberi revealed.
"I found out (about the positives) at 6pm and called race director Mauro Vegni. The UCI decided to put out their press release in the evening so as to not spoil the party atmosphere of the team presentation.
"I've tried to talk to the two riders. Pirazzi stayed silent, Ruffoni said he couldn't explain what happened, that he'll do more tests, that he'll get a lawyer. It's all rubbish, that I've heard many times. The thing that counts are the UCI tests."
According to regulations aimed at fighting doping within a team via a sense of common responsibility and deterrence, Bardiani-CSF face a suspension of 15-45 days under article 7.12.1 of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, subject to the decision of the UCI Disciplinary Commission.
The Disciplinary Commission can call an emergency meeting and so quickly suspend Bardiani-CSF, even before the riders' B samples are tested and the positives confirmed.
Bardiani-CSF is expected start the first stage of the Giro d'Italia on Friday without Pirazzi and Ruffoni but could then be suspended mid-race, causing further embarrassment and scandal. If the process becomes drawn out and sparks a legal battle, any suspension could be decided in June.
The Bardiani-CSF team is under huge pressure but Reverberi is trying to fight to keep the team in the Giro d'Italia and keep the team alive.
"I know the organisers are under pressure to send us home but it's not the team's fault. If someone can prove that I've advised my riders to dope, then can rip up my licence," Reverberi pleaded.
"What has the team got to do with these cases? We've got internal rules signed by the riders. They know they'll be sacked if the positive is confirmed. In theory, there also could be legal action and damages. But how do you quantify damage like this?
"I'm in bits, I feel like crying. I can only think of the sponsors who have never pressured us to get results, of the team staff and the other riders. I want to quit. Cycling is my passion, I'm 75-years-old and this is my 36th Giro d'Italia. What difference does an extra win or not make to me?"