Vini Fantini-Selle Italia has announced that it will pass up on its invitation to the Tour of Lombardy in October in the wake of Mauro Santambrogio’s positive test for EPO at the Giro d’Italia.
It was the team’s second positive test in quick succession, after it was revealed during the Giro that Danilo Di Luca had also tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test the week before the race began.
The Pro Continental Vini Fantini-Selle Italia outfit was present at the Giro thanks to the wildcard invitation it received from RCS Sport in January. As a token of apology to the organisers, it has opted to hand back its invitation to the Tour of Lombardy on October 6th, which is the next WorldTour race organised by RCS.
“Out of respect to the organisers and because of the excellent relations we have had with the RCS entourage up to now, we have decided to pass up on the invitation we received to Il Lombardia,” Vini Fantini-Selle Italia general manager Angelo Citracca said.
“We fully understand the difficult and embarrassing situation in which the heads of RCS inevitably find themselves after these recent incidents. For this reason, we have decided to step aside. Our primary interest is not to create further problems for the organisers, who we continue to thank for the great faith they have shown in us all these years.”
Vini Fantini-Selle Italia was one of seven wildcard team invited to the Tour of Lombardy, along with Androni-Venezuela, Katusha, Colombia, IAM Cycling, NetApp-Endura and Europcar.
In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia also said that it would be holding an assembly of all team and staff members before its next competitive outing, in which a new internal testing protocol would be discussed.
Mauro Santambrogio tested positive for EPO in a control taken on stage one of the Giro in Naples, but the result was not announced until Monday. In the intervening period, Santambrogio had claimed stage victory at Bardonecchia and finished 9th overall in Brescia.
Similarly, Danilo Di Luca took the start of the Giro and twice came close to claiming stage victory before the result of his positive test for EPO was revealed on the final Thursday of the race. Di Luca, who previously served a ban for a positive test for CERA in 2009, signed for the team on April 26 and was drafted immediately into the Giro roster.
Citracca, team manager Luca Scinto and team doctor Daniele Tarsi were appearing before the Italian Cycling Federation’s disciplinary committee on Monday afternoon to discuss the Di Luca affair when news of Santambrogio’s positive test broke.
“[Santambrogio] didn’t respond to my telephone calls, so I sent him a text message and told him to be a man and respond,” Scinto told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Then he called to say ‘sorry, I betrayed you.’ And this is enough for him? He’s putting 38 people out into the street.”
Scinto said that he already tackled Santambrogio on the doping rumours circulating about him in the build-up to the Giro after the dramatic upturn in his performances following his transfer from BMC during the off-season.
Vini Fantini’s doctor Daniele Tarsi, meanwhile, claimed that the team could not be blamed for Santambrogio’s actions as his biological passport was in order.
“When Scinto told me there were rumours, I checked personally,” Tarsi told Gazzetta. “He had been tested at the GP Lanciano and the Giro di Toscana, on April 27 and 28, and again in Naples two days before the start, and all the tests were in order. The ‘range’ of his passport was in order and his levels even fell at the end of the Giro, so we were sure that he was telling the truth.”
Gazzetta also reports that during the Italian federation hearing on Monday afternoon, Scinto distanced himself from Di Luca and Santambrogio, allegedly saying that “Di Luca was wanted by [sponsor Valentino] Sciotti and Santambrogio was almost given away by BMC.”
However, Giovanni Grauso, the head of the Italian federation procura, said the rationale behind their signings was not relevant to the matter at hand. Scinto, Citracca, Tarsi and Sciotti are likely to be called back to Rome to answer questions on the Santambrogio case within the next three weeks.