History will be the judge of Operacion Puerto links, says Cipollini

Former world champion repeats calls for establishment of Italian WorldTour team

Mario Cipollini has said that "history will be the judge" of his implication in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal and insisted that his conscience is clear.

In February 2013, La Gazzetta dello Sport published alleged evidence of Cipollini's links to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes and claimed that he had used EPO and undergone a series of blood transfusions during the 2002 season, in which he won Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem and the World Championships in Zolder.

Operacion Puerto has been rumbling on since 2006 after police raids on the office of Fuentes in Madrid. Several cyclists were identified as patients of Fuentes from the documentation and blood-bag code names kept by the doctor and punished, including Ivan Basso and current world champion Alejandro Valverde. However, Spanish courts have so-far stopped the World Anti-Doping Agency from identify athletes via DNA testing.

Cipollini threatened legal action against La Gazzetta dello Sport and dismissed the allegations as "false and absurd." It seems that the drawn out legal battle has ended and the Tuscan sprinter was the subject of a two-page interview in the newspaper on Thursday, which only briefly touched upon his links to Fuentes.

"On that period and on those events, everything has already been said. Case closed!" Cipollini told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "History will be the judge. I know that I can present myself to anyone with my head held high, and I'm at peace with my conscience."

In the interview, Cipollini also discussed the creation a new Italian WorldTour team with backing from Italian businesspeople and politicians, an idea he had previously floated on social media. He cited the example of Team Sky, which grew out of the lottery-funded British track programme.

"I think the time has come to make an appeal to business people to invest in cycling. Our sport remains a beautiful one, and very popular, and it hurts me to see Nibali, Viviani, Aru and all the best Italian riders that we have in the jerseys of foreign companies," said Cipollini, who also suggested a crowdfunded team in the absence of a commercial sponsor. "The Giro brings over 10 million tifosi onto the roadside. If every one of them put €2 into this initiative, it would be done."

Cipollini's social media post earlier this month also featured an appeal to Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right Lega party, who is currently deputy prime minister in Italy's coalition government.

"In the past, I had personally requested the intervention of [former prime minister Silvio] Berlusconi. Now I've turned to Salvini because I see him as being very attentive to topics related to the redemption of our country, but the message is also for the minister of sport [Giancarlo] Giorgetti, for the Five Star Movement and for whoever will be in charge of the government. We need a push and maybe fiscal incentives for those who believe in a new project."

On his role in any new Italian team, meanwhile, Cipollini said: "I'd like to pass my knowledge on to young riders, but I don't think I have the capacity and the desire to be on site 365 days in the year."

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