The Girobio stage race is leading the way in the fight against a drug culture in Italian cycling, but the race was in shock after Italian police carried out a targeted search on the Lucchini Unidelta team and reportedly discovered a large quantity of medicines and possible blood doping equipment.
Under the rules of the Girobio, riders are not allowed to poses even multivitamins and medicines and so the Lucchini Unidelta team was immediately expelled from the race before the start of stage two. Omar Lombardi from the team won the opening stage and was race leader but he was also sent home.
According to reports in Italian media, hormones, medicines to help recovery, syringes and butterfly valves were found in the rider's accommodation, in the room of team manager and former professional rider Bruno Leali, at Leali's home and in his team car and at the team's base near Brescia. The police action was part of an on-going investigation into doping in cycling by police in Padua.
"The Girobio is based on rules of clean racing, honesty and credibility. Leali and his team have violated these rules and so, knowing we've done the right thing in respect to the other riders in the race, we've expelled them from the race," event directeur Giancarlo Brocci announced.
Bruno Leali was a professional rider in the eighties and early nineties, winning the Italian national title in 1987 and wearing the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia in 1993. Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport after the police search, he insisted the drugs found were not banned substances but just used to help recovery.
"They're just medicines, prescription medicines. I kept them in my bag, ready to use but only after the team doctor had given me a prescription," Leali claimed in his defence.
"I knew I wasn't supposed to have the medicines (at the Girobio). I made a small mistake but I did it so that I could act quickly if needed. Now we'll see what happens but I'll defend myself with a lawyer."
The Girobio continued on Sunday with the third stage from Salsomaggiore to Gedhi near Bologna. The racing has been overshadowed by yet another doping scandal but the organisers are convinced they are taking the right line in the fight against doping in under 23 cycling.
"Our project is leading the way. The exclusion of the Lucchini Unidelta team, whatever was found, will only make us stronger. We're going to carry on," Giancarlo Brocci insisted.