Giuseppe Martinelli, the senior directeur sportif at the Astana team, has responded to questions about his past in the sport, as the former directeur sportif for the late Italian cyclist Marco Pantani, and the doubts about Vincenzo Nibali's credibility as a possible Tour de France winner.
Martinelli said he has no regrets about his past, when he was directeur sportif with Pantani and four other Giro d'Italia winners during the last two decades.
"The world of cycling is doing everything possible to take a different road compared to the past," he told Cyclingnews and a small group of other journalists at the start of stage 14 in Grenoble, careful to avoid the word doping as he expressed his thoughts.
"The only regret I've got (about my past) is that every so often my name is linked to questions like this. I think I was a directeur sportif just like many others in the last two decades. I worked with serenity back then, just as I'm doing now and I want to carry on doing my job."
When pushed to clarify exactly what he meant by serenity, Martinelli was not afraid to speak further.
"It means to be sure of what I'm doing, not have any regrets and fear that something might happen. I've always worked openly and I haven’t had any problems," he said.
Working with Marco Pantani
Martinelli is the last Italian directeur sportif to help a rider win the Tour de France. He played a fundamental role in Pantani's win in 1998, and in his eventually tragic career and decline marked by mental illness and cocaine problems.
Martinelli shared in Pantani's triumph in Paris and was also the person who drove him home after he was disqualified from the 1999 Giro d'Italia. He has rarely spoken about his close relationship with Pantani but refuses any criticism of Pantani, and of their professional and personal relationships.
Nibali's dominance at the Tour de France and his chance of being the next Italian to win the yellow jersey has brought back memories of Pantani's victory.
"I'll never deny my past with Marco," Martinelli said.
"Indeed, I wish somebody who was there at that time would prove what I did for Marco, because I've pretty much nothing to worry about. I'll never deny that I was Marco's directeur sportif. If I've become a good directeur sportif, it's thanks to Marco."
Martinelli is the second directeur sportif at Astana, strangely sitting in the back of the lead car, while Alexandr Shefer drives the car and team manager Alexandre Vinokourov hogs the front seat.
Italian director says people should trust Nibali
Martinelli admits he does not have the same kind of close relationship with Nibali that he had with Pantani.
“Before, I used to fall in love with my riders and sometimes I got my hands burnt. As I've become older, I've become more of a directeur sportif, more of an organizer and so more distant," he told Gazzetta dello Sport in a recent interview.
The 59-year-old Italian from Brescia insisted that people should trust in Nibali.
"Absolutely, 110 per cent. I'm sure 100 per cent. As I'm sure of the whole world of cycling," he said in Grenoble.
"But as he (Vincenzo) said, there's always someone who can mess up. But anybody can make a mistake in life, even me.
"The sport is believable now. I think the cycling world is doing everything possible to take a different road compared to the past and I think we're showing that."
Martinelli believes Nibali will go on to win the Tour thanks to his physical and psychological strengths.
"I've said it many times, he's special because of his 'engine', that's what makes the difference between a normal rider and a very, very strong rider. Nothing is as important as the engine. The training and the tactics are important but it’s the engine that makes the difference," he explained.
"He's also modest, he's got his feet on the ground. He speaks well of his rivals and he's a good person.
"I also think the fact that he took some risk on the pavé and early in the race was very important. He risked things even when Froome and Contador were in the race and it paid off. He wasn't afraid of anyone, he wasn't afraid to attack, just like a real shark."