The Italian 'pay to race' investigation has taken another bizarre twist after the appeal hearing was suspended due to a lack of heating at the Italian Cycling Federation offices.
The appeal was put back to February but with presidential elections only a week away and with a major change in the legal department expected as a consequence; it is unclear if a final verdict will ever be reached.
Bruno Reverberi, Angelo Citracca and Gianni Savio - the team managers at Bardiani-CSF, Wilier-Southeast and Androni Giocattoli - were all cleared of accusations that they somehow forced riders to find sponsors and pay to race as professionals with their Professional Continental teams.
The Italian Olympic Committee lodged an appeal and claimed that there was more than enough evidence for a guilty verdict. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the appeal hearing went on for almost four hours, with lawyers and official wearing coats and gloves, before the president of the appeal decided to suspend the hearing.
The investigation dubbed 'pagi e corri' – 'pay to ride' – began after a detailed investigation by Italian journalist Marco Bonarrigo for the prestigious Corriere della Sera newspaper. By speaking to several riders and witnesses, Bonarrigo lifted the lid on the financial deals that are widely suspected of occurring in the lower levels of Italian cycling. Olympic gold medallist Elia Viviani was a key witness in the investigation, with six other riders reportedly confirming to investigators that they were forced to fund their place in the professional peloton.
Reverberi, Citracca and Savio all denied obliging riders to pay to race with their teams and other illegal financial agreements. They suggested that riders often helped secure sponsorship but that they operated within the UCI rules. The UCI has never failed to award the teams in question Professional Continental licences.
However several riders and their agents admitted that the system is widespread, with one agent, who wished to remain anonymous, admitting that most of the 15 riders he works with pay to race. The investigation focused on Italy. Similar illegal practices are suspected in other countries but are not believed to be as widespread.
Some Italian riders are apparently so desperate to turn professional after years of riding as an amateur that they are ready to accept virtually any contract. However, this favours riders who can, or are willing, to pay, and weakens the quality of the Italian peloton, while other riders quit the sport or try their hand with teams in other countries.
Former Tuscan amateur rider Matteo Mammini told Corriere della Sera that he was asked to pay 50,000 Euro to turn professional. He asked the bank for a loan but preferred to use the money to open a bar. Mammini was one of the best Italian riders in 2012, finishing fourth at the European under 23 championships and sixth in the world championships.
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