Mauro Santambrogio has thanked the “affection of the internet” for saving him after he appeared to threaten suicide in a post on Twitter on Thursday night. The Italian rider tested positive for EPO at this year’s Giro d’Italia and admitted that he had struggled to cope with the widespread condemnation of his peers and the cycling public.
On Thursday evening, Santambrogio – whose Twitter account had not been updated since the day news of his positive test broke in June – posted the chilling message “Goodbye world,” followed shortly afterwards by “I can’t do it any more.”
Santambrogio’s tweets provoked an avalanche of responses, from journalists and fellow riders, as well as from cycling fans, and a couple of hours later, he posted to allay their fears. “I have to and I will win this race,” he wrote. “Thank you for helping me reflect and for saving me.”
On Friday afternoon, Santambrogio spoke with Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Ciro Scognamiglio near his home in Inverigo, in the province of Como, and explained what had driven him to that point.
“I touched rock bottom and maybe I even went below that. But now I feel better,” Santambrogio said. “I understood that I was doing something stupid, something that was bigger than me. The affection that I felt around me on the internet saved me.”
Santambrogio won stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia in the snow atop the Jafferau and finished the race in 9th place overall, but his startling performances throughout the early part of the season had already aroused much suspicion from observers. On June 3, it was announced that Santambrogio – like his Vini Fantini-Selle Italia teammate Danilo Di Luca – had tested positive for EPO.
“I was condemned as a sportsman but above all as a man, and it’s the latter that really hurt me. It’s wounded me deeply. I’m not a criminal,” said Santambrogio of the reaction to his positive test. “In an instant, I went from the stars to the gutter. It’s that I had become a champion at the Giro but in my own way, within my environment, I felt like a little god. I lost everything and I became an outcast.
“My world is cycling and being away from it hurts me. On Sunday I started watching the Tour of Lombardy, my favourite race, my home race. But I couldn’t do it. I switched it off and I went to bed.”
Although immediately fired by his Vini Fantini-Selle Italia team, Santambrogio’s case remains in the balance, given that the UCI has yet to confirm the analysis of the B sample. In September, it was reported that the low levels of EPO in the A sample – believed to indicative of micro-dosing – were such that they might not be repeated in an analysis of the B sample, in which case Santambrogio would be cleared.
Santambrogio stopped short of confessing to Gazzetta on Friday, although he did admit that “it wasn’t easy to live with the reputation of being an eternal second, even if a lot of the races I lost were to champions.”
Vini Fantini manager Luca Scinto called on Santambrogio to confess but stressed that saving the man was more important than condemning the rider. “Let’s leave the rider aside and think about the man,” Scinto told Gazzetta. “I’m ready to help him, I’ve invited him to my house next week and I really hope he comes. Beyond that, if he has made a mistake, it’s right that he admits it.”
In the months since the Giro, Santambrogio has worked occasionally as a baker, after a friend suggested it as a way of filling his sleepless nights. “I did it a few times, from 2 or 3 at night until 10 or 11. I even learnt the trade, but to tell the truth, I still see myself as a cyclist,” he said.
“The affection I felt on the 'net after what I wrote did me a lot of good. Maybe I can’t do it on my own, so I’ve asked for help from a psychologist, who I will see this evening [Friday]. I want to make it. I have to make it.”