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Italian police carry out 25 searches on Vini Zabù team after De Bonis EPO positive

Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali 2021 - 4th stage San Marino - San Marino 154 km - 26/03/2021 - - photo Roberto Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2021
Vini Zabù at the 2021 Settimana Coppi e Bartali (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Police in Italy have carried out a series of searches on the Vini Zabù team following the news of Matteo De Bonis' positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test on February 16.

On Tuesday morning, the NAS (health and safety) unit of the Carabinieri conducted 25 searches as part of an investigation into the Pistoia-based team commissioned by the city's public prosecutor's office.

According to a report by Corriere della Sera, Vini Zabù general manager Angelo Citracca, senior directeur sportif Luca Scinto, and De Bonis have all been placed under investigation. 22 other searches were also carried out on people related to the team, with almost all the riders' homes searched.

One of the people – as yet unnamed – investigated by the Carabinieri has turned up in three past investigations by prosecutors in Pistoia, Florence and Massa, Corriere reported. 

The searches, which were carried out in collaboration with Carabinieri units in Sicily, Lombardy and Friuli, among others, also targeted the team's workshop, warehouse and headquarters.

Corriere report that investigators are working under the suspicion that Citracca and Scinto could be involved in the administration, facilitation, or procurement of the EPO for which De Bonis tested positive. The report adds that investigators suspect that other riders of the team have also used prohibited products.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, Vini Zabù stated that Citracca had summoned De Bonis to a meeting at the team's headquarters in San Baronto, adding that the team has commissioned lawyers to protect its image and reputation.

"The athlete said that he wanted to meet the team, accompanied by his father," the statement reads. "The team hopes that the athlete will make himself available to ascertain the truth.

"The team has already given a mandate to its lawyers to protect the image and reputation of the team. In the meantime, the rider has been suspended in accordance with the rules. Updates will follow."

Citracca and Scinto were unavailable to speak to Cyclingnews on Wednesday as their phones had been confiscated as part of the investigation.

De Bonis' positive test – the seventh since the team's founding as ISD in 2009 – is also their second in a 12-month period, following Matteo Spreafico's positive for ostarine at the Giro d'Italia last October. 

The International Testing Agency, that carries out anti-doping testing for the UCI since January 1, said the test was planned and targeted.  

Under UCI rules, the team now risk a suspension from racing of between 15 to 45 days, pending analysis of the B-sample, and could miss out on this year's Giro as a result.

Valentino Sciotti, founder and CEO of Vini Fantini and long-time sponsor of the team, has said that he is worried about the teams' prospects of riding the Giro, but has yet to hear from Citracca and Scinto.

"At the moment, I haven't heard from anyone, neither Angelo nor Luca," Sciotti told Tuttobiciweb. "I don't even know who this guy [De Bonis – Ed.] is. All I can say is that I'm bitter and discouraged like few others.

"I think this guy has put us in serious difficulty [to race the Giro]. It's right that the UCI should do what it has to do, but the hope is that they understand that the fault is not ours alone. In fact, we are clearly the injured party.

"What bothers me is that these guys can't close the matter with a simple disqualification. We as a team are suffering unspeakable damage. They have to pay the team for the inconvenience they have caused. I hope that [Italian Federation president] Cordiano Dagnoni will be able to do something."

Updated: On Wednesday evening, Vini Zabù stated that De Bonis, his father and lawyer met with team management earlier in the day. During the meeting, the rider gave his version of events and provided a statement about the incident and his activities. The team stated that they have handed the information over to the authorities.

"This afternoon, as planned, a meeting took place between the management of the Vini Zabù team and Matteo De Bonis, who arrived at our San Baronto headquarters accompanied by his father and his lawyer," read the team's statement.

"During the meeting, Matteo De Bonis showed his willingness to cooperate, giving his version of the facts and taking full and personal responsibility for what happened.

"The rider from Gaeta, who has already been suspended from the team, issued a statement in which he provided specific and detailed information about the contested incident, including contacts and how he used the incriminated products.

"Vini Zabù has acted promptly to provide this statement to the relevant authorities and is confident about the development of the matter."

Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.