It’s been announced this afternoon that Vini Fantini rider Mauro Santambrogio has failed a doping test for EPO. Unlike his erstwhile teammate Danilo Di Luca Santambrogio’s test was carried out in Italy. The findings were discovered at a Rome laboratory after the test was taken ahead of stage 1 of this years Giro d’Italia, held in Naples.
VCSE has picked up on the story this afternoon via social media. At present there hasn’t been any comment officially from Santambrogio’s no doubt soon to be ex employers Vini Fantini, but his DS at the Giro Luca Scinto has already hinted that it could spell the end of the team, stating; “It’s the end of our project”. It’s a blow to VCSE as well after we had backed the rider as one to watch following his performances in early season events like Tirreno Adriatico and his stage 14 win at the Giro last month.
The positive test raises many questions, chiefly would Santambrogio have achieved the same results if he had ridden clean? Although no longer with a world tour team, the move to Vini Fantini at the age of 28 provided a fantastic platform to lead a team and ride for general classification results in addition to stage wins. Assuming Santambrogio offers no defence to the positive test he will have, in effect, ended his career.
How so? If the noises from the peloton are to be believed there appears to be a shift towards lifetime bans for dopers. This was certainly the consensus when Di Luca’s positive test was reported. In practice it is unlikely to happen, if only because sanctions aren’t applied universally. Take the example of Garmin where David Millar is not only an ex doper, but also part owner of the team. In addition to Millar there are riders on Garmin like Christian Van de Velde and David Zabriskie who served bans in the off season after their part in the Lance Armstrong / USADA case. Garmin maintain a transparent anti doping stance and where formed as such. The riders on the team who have doped in the past have ultimately come forward and cooperated with the anti doping authorities. This is not the case with other teams, where although an anti doping stance is implied it is not always explicit how this is applied.
Team Sky’s zero tolerance anti doping policy is the other high profile example from the world tour. This has proved to be a blessing and a curse for Sky as it essentially relies on the preparedness of team members to be open about doping. Prior to the Lance Armstrong ‘reasoned decision’ Sky had unwittingly employed ex dopers who subsequently left the team when the Armstrong story broke. As far as VCSE is aware there aren’t any other world tour teams who maintain such a highly visible anti doping stance as Garmin and Sky. Garmin’s approach appears to have its merits in that riders who admit to having doped in the past can remain with the team, although the emphasis here is ex doper. Former professional rider turned DS Matt White was sacked by Garmin after recommending a doctor closely associated with doping to a rider on the team.
Sky’s zero tolerance policy seems simple enough, but it was easy for riders and staff to circumvent it by just not saying anything about their past. Where zero tolerance falls down for VCSE is that Sky have lost talent from the team (back room staff in particular) by not allowing the chance of rehabilitation. It has also led to questions being asked when someone leaves the team under ‘unusual’ circumstances.
Students of the cycling biography (Tyler Hamilton & David Millar being obvious examples) will know that teams historically employed some kind of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach. The reality of this was probably that don’t ask and don’t tell was the grey, middle area between teams that openly employed a doping strategy (open within the confines of the team bus that is) and teams that left the riders to make their own arrangements, safe in the knowledge that a professional rider would always ‘prepare’ properly for a big race.
VCSE believes that road racing is pretty clean at present. The fact that riders are testing positive suggests that the anti doping controls that are in place are working and the teams are taking appropriate action if a rider tests positive. The problems begin when considering the wider impact of a positive test. Mauro Santambrogio looked like a rider on the verge of a great year, if not greatness having joined a new team. Tyler Hamilton talked about how he achieved some of his greatest results riding clean, but as a doper all of his results carry that taint. It’s the same for Santambrogio, who finds himself, quite legitimately under scrutiny for every placing this year, if not in previous years before that.