When news broke this fall that Amore & Vita-Selle SMP rider Luca Benedetti had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, some of his competitors were surprised, but at least one teammate had harbored suspicions about Benedetti since the Italian's first week on the team.
The UCI recently issued a lifetime ban to Benedetti, who tested positive for a form of EPO called Darbepoetin on June 6 at this year's Grand Prix Saguenay in Canada. He was provisionally suspended in September and then banned for life last week.
The doping sanction is the second for Benedetti, who was suspended in 2010 for his part in the Padua investigation during the GiroBio. At that time, Benedetti's entire Lucchini-Unidelta team was removed from the race after Italy’s Anti-Narcotics Group found contraband medical products in the manager's home and in the team's training base. Benedetti's suspension was later reduced to one year.
The 26-year-old Italian returned to racing with the Bottoli amateur team in 2013, taking 11 wins that year, according to Amore & Vita 2014 director Phil Cortes. Benedetti, who was riding his first season at the Continental level this year, waited to move Amore & Vita until after his wife gave birth to a baby girl in March. He had only been racing with the team a few days before the positive test at Saguenay.
"It's unfortunate that some young riders are still following in the unethical footsteps of the former generation," Cortes told Cyclingnews. "He was only with the team for six days before testing positive. He debuted with the team at Philly."
Benedetti's time with Amore & Vita started out well. He was fourth at the Philly Cycling Classic on June 1 and won the mountains classification at Saguenay the next week. Benedetti sprinted to the stage 1 win at the Tour de Beauce the following week ahead of Optum Pro Cycling's Eric Young.
Michael Woods, a Canadian who rode with Amore & Vita at the start of this season before signing with 5-hour Energy after the Tour de Beauce, was runner-up to Benedetti in the KOM competition at Saguenay. Woods, who will ride for Optum next year, wrote on his personal blog that he had suspected Benedetti of doping since an Amore & Vita teammate told him the Italian had asked the other rider to purchase banned insulin for him.
“...[I]n the arbitration of my mind, my verdict towards Luca’s credibility as a rider had long passed. When Luca asked one of my teammates back in June if he could buy him insulin at Walmart – Luca was in no way being pursued by Novo Nordisk [an all Type 1 Diabetic Cycling Team] – a banned substance for non-diabetics by WADA, I was pretty confident that he was not playing by the rules,” Woods wrote.
“I left Amore & Vita, in part, because of riders like Benedetti,” Woods continued. “I am trying to move up in this sport. I am trying to do it clean, and to be linked with suspect characters is something I have no interest in doing. This sport has a terrible history when it comes to doping [so do all other pro sports], however, this positive test, in my mind, is a mark that this sport is turning the page. It is getting harder for the cheaters to cheat.”
Young, a two-time US criterium champion, told Cyclingnews this week that he was surprised but not shocked that Benedetti tested positive, and he's glad the Italian rider received a lifetime ban.
"It's not the biggest loss of my career or anything," Young said of the sprint he lost to Benedetti at Beauce. "So that's not too big a deal. I had a pretty successful year, so that's all good. But I do think it's a shame that somebody at the Continental level, where we're not even racing the best people in the world or racing for that much money, it's a shame that somebody like that feels the need to artificially enhance his cycling. It seems stupid to me. I guess it pisses me off a little bit, but whatever. That's his decision."
Woods wrote on his blog that Benedetti's decision to dope did rob the riders he beat of a chance to bask in the glory of the win, spend time on the podium or get increased coverage in cycling media. It may have even cost riders jobs on other teams. Despite the lifetime ban, those things can never be replaced.
Young took little stock in the notion that he might have another win added to his 2014 palmares.
"If only that really counted," he said. "It doesn't seem like in cycling that that really matters. There should be a better way of handing those things down."