Italian judge says doping is still a problem in cycling

Benedetto Roberti calls for a change of cycling culture

Benedetto Roberti, the Italian investigating judge who has uncovered key evidence against Dr. Michele Ferrari and a long list of his clients, has given a rare interview with Tuttobici magazine, claiming that little has changed in the sport, with new, undetectable versions of EPO and other doping products still being used by professional, amateur and even Gran Fondo riders.

Roberti revealed his own passion for cycling, saying he has ridden numerous Gran Fondo events, where he has seen riders use cortisone suppositories as they line-up for the start. Roberti is a former military judge and angered the Italian Olympic Committee anti-doping investigators by refusing to share evidence he has collected during his meticulous investigations. His penal investigation is expected to be concluded in the New Year, with much of the evidence likely to emerge when a preliminary judge decides who should go on trial. Some evidence has already emerged as part of the USADA Reasoned Decision documentation that snared Lance Armstrong and lead to the UCI disqualifying him from his seven Tour de France victories. 

"I've seen things that people can't even imagine," Roberti told Tuttobici, talking about doping in every level of cycling.

"I've learnt never to trust some people. Riders are often considered the weakest link in all of this but the riders are responsible for what they do. They're the start and the end of it all. The rest is just a lot of talking."

"Not all of cycling is bad but things aren't looking good and believe me, nothing has changed. It's not true that the situation has improved in the last few years. We're dealing with scruple-less people who inject themselves with everything, without knowing what they're doing: products stolen from hospitals, from Eastern countries without any guarantees on the quality."

"Riders have recently told me that there are substances in use that can't be found by anti-doping tests. One is Erythropoietin Z by Retacrit, it's known as EPO Z. There's a Chinese EPO that has been released, I don't know its name but it can’t be found (in tests) and was definitely the queen of the Olympics. There's also AICAR, that is brought in from the East as a powder and is apparently a kind of genetic doping. In simple terms, it helps reset muscle fibres after huge efforts. It can't be found in anti-doping tests either."

"So have things improved? Has sport and especially cycling really taken a new direction? I say no and whoever says the opposite doesn't love our sport."

Take Bjarne Riis' licence away

Roberti calls for a generation change and a change of culture in cycling. While the UCI has allowed Bjarne Riis to continue as a team manager with the Saxo-Tinkoff WorldTour team, despite his doping confession and links to the past, Roberti is adamant that people like the Dane should have no place in cycling.

"The UCI should take away Bjarne Riis' licence, he's confessed. They didn’t take away his 1996 Tour win and they even let him work as if nothing has happened. The UCI should take a clear stance and for sure is responsible too," Tuttobici reported Roberti as saying.

"We've got to control whoever teaches cycling to young people. Who raced in the eighties and nineties could be dangerous. Things have to be cleaned up at this level. We need new managers and technical staff rather than a manifesto and ethics codes. We need a jump in the culture and to make doping not worth it. We've got to work with the families because it's about contracts and money. We've got to teach young people that it's more important to promote a sponsor's good name rather than just easy wins."

"You can't fight doping with just repression. The problem is to change people's mentality, make them more responsible. Nobody seems ashamed of what they do. It's not only cycling, the world is like that today; drugged by a thousand offers, especially culturally. People don’t know how to distinguish between good and bad."

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