Second edition news for June 7, 2001

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Verbuggen: We must understand the riders

Latest live updates from today's cancelled stage

UCI president Hein Verbuggen has supported the riders decision to protest the police raids. He, together with Giro director Carmine Castellano and the director of La Gazetta dello Sport, Candido Cannav˛, attended the meeting held by the riders to discuss whether they would continue the race.

Before he went in he said that "The decision is up to them, I would not make this appeal if they were in the wrong, but we must consider what has happened last night and in recent years."

"It is always cycling that is under scrutiny, even though it looks as though other sports have small problems. It already happened in the Tour of 1998 - why act on TVM four months after the opening of the inquiry. Why raid Three Days of De Panne in 1999 for something nothing to do with cycling?"

"To carry out an action as that which occurred yesterday in the final week of a Grand Tour puts enormous pressure on the riders. I feel sorry for them."

NAS: No persecution

The Italian national drug squad (NAS) are claiming that the raids were not aimed at persecuting the riders, who are perhaps the most tested of any sport. Gennaro Niglio of the NAS said that "We were executing orders from the magistracy [with prosecutor Luigi Bocciolini present] and therefore there was no persecution."

Banned drugs seized by police in Giro raids

According to some sources, illegal substances have been found during police raids on team hotels in the Giro d'Italia last night. Italian newsagency ANSA reported police sources as saying substances including stimulants, corticosteroids, testosterone, caffeine, adrenal and anabolic steroids had been seized. Unlabelled medicine bottles, syringes and vials of blood were also removed, along with a plasma/protein-based solution. All the substances have been taken to laboratories in Rome and Florence for analysis.

Witnesses last night said some things were thrown from the windows of hotel rooms soon after the raid began. Also, one cyclist was spotted jumping out of a window, although he was later stopped by police.

The raid, which employed 200 drug squad (NAS) and financial police for the 20 teams in the race, provoked a backlash from the riders earlier today (Thursday), who met to discuss whether they would even start the stage (see story below). Eventually the organisers cancelled the stage for "technical reasons", as the riders continued their meeting.

A meeting will be held later tonight between organiser Carmine Castellano, cyclists Marco Pantani and Mario Cipollini, and some team managers, incluidng ONCE's Manolo Saiz, to determine whether the Giro will continue at all.

The president of the Italian Cycling Federation, Gian Carlo Ceruti said the raids were the price cyclists would have to pay if they had not yet understood the need to clean up the sport.

It was almost three years ago that raids of a similar nature took place during the Tour de France in 1998. However, only two teams were searched then, and even that caused several teams to pull out of the race in protest. In addition, the 17th stage that finished in Aix-les-Bains was ridden as a protest stage, and didn't count for the results.

Searching all the teams in the race means that the police could remove any doubts as to which teams were clean, and which weren't. It has been confirmed that some teams have had no substances seized. However, on Belgian TV, there are rumours that in addition to the 2 riders already positive (Herve and Forconi) another 7 Giro riders (including 'a big fish') were 'maybe positive' too. These are only rumours at the moment.

According to ANSA, Florence prosecutor, Luigi Bocciolini was present during the raids after he had become involved in the probe when police in Tuscany carried out a minor search after stage 8. UCI president Hein Verbruggen believes that it is a political stunt by the new government.

Italian legislation passed late last year means that it is now a crime for an athlete to take banned substances, and could mean up to 3 years in jail.

The Giro is due to finish this Sunday in Milan.

Giro raids bring rider backlash, stage cancelled

After last night's drug police raids on team hotels in San Remo, today's scheduled 230 kilometre Giro stage 18 has been cancelled for "technical reasons," according to the organisers. A mass meeting between the riders is currently under way, with the possibility that they will continue the Giro. Those present included all the top riders in the race: Gilberto Simoni, Dario Frigo, Abraham Olano, Mario Cipollini, and Marco Pantani, together with about 50 others. Simoni was not initally present, but came an hour later after being telephoned.

The raids last night were carried out by 200 officers from the Italian drug squad (NAS) and financial police. Hotels of Telekom, Mercatone Uno, Selle Italia, Liquigas, Mobilvetta were amongst those targetted. A soigneur of Pantani's, Roberto Pregnaloto, was given some heavier treatment by police after he was escorted from the hotel and a bag containing vials was confiscated from him. Pregnaloto told police the vials contained "reinvigorators".

Marco Pantani chose not to start today's stage of the Giro because of influenza. "He's completely drained. He went to bed at 2 am - there's no point in going on," said his manager Manuela Ronchi.

This was the biggest search of this kind since the 1998 Tour de France, which produced a similar reaction. Two riders - Pascal Herve (Alexia) and Riccardo Forconi (Mercatone Uno) - have already tested positive for EPO during the Giro, and there was also Lampre's Sergio Barbero's withdrawal after it was found that he returned a positive test during the Tour de Romandie.

Jeroen Blijlevens told Dutch TV: "We were sitting at dinner with the whole Lotto-team when ten detectives arrived. The management of the hotel had to bring us to one big room. All the riders, the assistents, the sponsor and our guests had to stay there. We had to give all our mobile phones to the police and one after one we were brought to our room. The police investigated everything: the rooms, the luggage, the beds, the cars."

"Some riders could not go to sleep until three in the morning," said Manolo Saiz (D.S. of ONCE and president of the Association des groupes cyclistes professionnels (AIGCP)). "Between the directeur sportifs, we agreed to having a shortened stage."

Fassa Bortolo director Giancarlo Ferretti said that "The riders are not dogs on a leash. It is up to them to decide."

A Giro spokesman said that the stage length had been cut for "logistical and organisational reasons. Considering the events which went on late into the night and which you all know about, the organisers have decided to cancel the start at Imperia," read the official statement.

The search was authorised by the court in Florence, which is carrying out a wide investigation into illegal drug use in sports. Hein Verbruggen commented that "The police have to do whatever they think is right, but they should consider the rights of the riders."

"I want to say that if the police found something then that means there is still a problem in the sport. If they haven't found anything, that means that there isn't a serious problem."

Verbrugghe back home

Prologue winner Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto) also decided to call it quits today (independently of the other goings on) as he has been suffering from sickness for the past few days. He was returned home to Belgium after his team leader advised him not to take any risks before the Tour de France, which starts in one month's time in Dunkirk.

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