An Italian inquiry is investigating allegations that the Androni, Bardiani-CSF and Wilier-Southeast teams have forced some riders to pay their own way or bring in additional sponsors in order to earn a professional contract. It has also been alleged that riders have later been required to pay an additional fee on leaving certain teams.
Corriere della Sera reports that team managers Gianni Savio, Bruno Reverberi and Angelo Citracca risk anything from one-year suspensions to life bans if found guilty of wrongdoing by the investigation carried out by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI).
According to Corriere, Olympic omnium champion Elia Viviani (Sky) has been a key witness in the case. The Italian, previously of Liquigas, has never had to pay his way onto a team, but witnessed the practice first-hand when he looked to bring his friend Marco Coledan (now of Trek-Segafredo) into the Liquigas squad.
"I remember that it was a surprise for Coledan to discover that he would have to pay a penalty to leave Bardiani, especially because he told me he was on the minimum wage, and nobody told him he would have to pay money to leave," Viviani reportedly told CONI on June 14. "The strange thing was that it wasn't clearly indicated what the cost of this so-called penalty would be."
Coledan ultimately did not join Viviani at Liquigas, remaining instead with Bardiani until he signed with Trek-Segafredo at the beginning of last season. The Italian rider has reportedly denied the claim.
Corriere reports that six other riders have admitted to either paying their way onto a team or finding a new sponsor for the team in order to cover the cost of their salaries. The newspaper writes of family businesses paying for riders to turn professional, and reports of a case in the Veneto, a pair of riders were signed in a "two for the price of one" deal, with the family of the weaker rider covering the difference.
News of the inquiry first broke last winter, with Savio and Citracca both acknowledging to Corriere della Sera that the need for sponsors had an impact on recruitment. They each denied ever having signed riders who had paid their way directly.
“Requests like that arrive but this kind of thing doesn't exist in the Androni-Sidermec team," Savio said at the time. "At the most we take a rider when a sponsor asks us to, as in the case of sprinter Pacioni."
Citracca, meanwhile, justified the signing of Ramon Carretero, even though the Panamanian rider struggled in races and then tested positive for EPO at the 2015 Tour of Turkey. His father had reportedly been instrumental in bringing Southeast to the team as sponsor. "How could I refuse to sign Carretero after his father helped find me a sponsor that helped save the jobs of 30 people?" Citracca said last year.