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Pearl Izumi
Limar helmets

85th Giro d'Italia (GT)

Italy, May 11-June 2, 2002

News for May 22, 2002

Edited by Jeff Jones

Garzelli's B sample positive

Stefano Garzelli (Mapei-Quick Step) will be forced to retire from the Giro d'Italia while in second place on the general classification, after his B sample returned a positive result for Probenecid, a banned diuretic that used to be used as a masking agent for other drugs such as steroids. Garzelli tested positive for the drug after winning stage 2 in Liege on May 13, with the news of his first sample being announced last Saturday, May 18.

The counter analysis was performed at the UCI laboratory in Lausanne, under the supervision of anti-doping chief Dr Leon Schattenberg. The test results were announced a few hours after the completion of the ninth stage by the UCI's medical inspector, Giovanni Meraviglia.

Earlier, it was found that both of Garzelli's samples taken after stage 3 (Esch-sur-Alzette) and stage 4 (Strasbourg) were negative. The question is now what were the results of any tests taken at the prologue and stage 1? If these were also negative then there some aspects of this case that are strange, given the information currently available.

According to race rules Garzelli will have to retire from the Giro, and his future as a cyclist is uncertain as he said that he would take a "long break" if his counter analysis was positive.

Stage 9 wrap up

Mario Cipollini's third Giro stage win was overshadowed a few hours afterwards by the news of Stefano Garzelli's confirmed positive test for probenecid. Garzelli is out of the race and out of cycling for some time, but there is still no sound explanation as to why he was taking a banned, non-performance enhancing gout treatment.

Cipollini won the stage after a long breakaway with Mariano Piccoli the main protagonist was caught with 28 kilometres to go, and the sprinters' teams wound things up to a frightening pace for the final dash into Caserta.

Stage 9 full results & report
Live report

Post stage comments

Mario Cipollini (Acqua e Sapone, 1st stage)

"How many sprinters do you know who still win at 35 years old? I must firstly thank my team. I need to be led out, this is the way in which I can make best use of my qualities. In Strasbourg, I contested the sprint and finished second but I did not have a good enough lead out. For me, it's more difficult when there are a lot of corners in the finale. Compared to the others I am perhaps less explosive but more powerful."

"In the team, there exists a true understanding. I do not need to talk to them, they know exactly what I want. This is also the first time I have found myself as the unique leader of a team in the Giro."

Jens Heppner (Telekom, 1st GC)

"Today was easier than yesterday's stage. This time, the team did not need to work. The domestiques of the sprinters chased down the breakaway. That is good, as it allows us to recover our energy before the next stages."

Gutted Garzelli to take a break from cycling

Garzelli applauds fans
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

The confirmation of Stefano Garzelli's positive test for probenecid after Stage 2 has cast yet another pall over an already troubled Giro d'Italia. The news was announced by the UCI on Tuesday evening in Caserta a few hours after the completion of stage 9.

Mapei team manager Alvaro Crespi reported that "The second analysis found probenecid in the second sample. The quantity found was 29 ng/ml (nanograms per millilitre) of probenecid - such a small amount that even the UCI doctor Leon Schattenberg said it wasn't enough to cover anything."

"This doesn't change the rule as there is no official permitted amount, so under the rules the rider is disqualified from the race. Obviously if the amount was so small it couldn't cover another drug," said Crespi.

Garzelli has seemed to be in a state of shock since the news broke on Saturday, and it's clear his morale is at its lowest ebb.

"In a certain sense, I didn't see this moment coming", he said, who will now be forced to retire from the race while in second place on GC and will lose both of his stage wins. "To do all this hard work for nothing sucks. Now that this disqualification is here, I'll take long vacation; longer than my suspension."

"Right now, I have no taste for cycling, maybe with the help and support of my people, I'll come back to the sport in the next six months or a year...I need to know if Mapei will continue in cycling."

"I can only say that for now, I have a clean conscience: something has happened, but I don't know what. The worst moment for me was on Saturday during the stage, a few hours after the entire thing came out: my really good friend Oscar Mason and said to me to 'hang tough'. That's the only time I have broken down during this whole thing."

Garzelli's urine tests were negative on May 14 and 15 after the Esch-Sur-Alzette and Strasbourg stages, but this is not surprising as experts say that probenecid will clear itself from the body within 10 hours. His blood test on 9 May, two days before the Giro d'Italia started, is now being examined further. Mapei-Quick Step is awaiting the further analyses of Garzelli before deciding how to treat this issue.

Crespi believes that Garzelli is innocent of doping and the Mapei team, which will continue in the Giro, may contact the police about the possibility of a set up.

"If something happened, it happened in Cologne between when we arrived in the evening and when we left the next morning for the following stage," said Crespi.

Cipollini comments

"It hurts me deeply to see what is happening to cycling. I've been a cyclist since I was three years old and I love this sport, just like the fans beside the road do. I don't like it when cycling's name is dragged through the mud."

"Cycling is a great sport and requires great sacrifices but there are people who are hurting the sport through their actions. We are all in the same boat and there seems to be a feeling that we're sinking."

"I don't have all the answers and it's not up to me to find them. I have to concentrate on racing. But, as I've been saying for years, there has to be more professionalism in cycling. There are directeurs sportifs who make money on the backs of the riders, and riders who aren't even good enough to be racing as amateurs."

"Garzelli is a rider who seems to me very sensitive, always undefended. Whoever cheats has to pay. But I hope that we will not lose a rider of such high quality as he."

Castellano comments

Giro race director Carmine Castellano commented on Garzelli's ejection from the race, the third time in four years that a rider in the top two on GC has been disqualified from the Giro.

"That it has happened to a rider who won the Giro two years ago and who was one of the protagonists for this edition does not obviously please me," he said. "I do not want to enter into a discussion on the focus of the question, on the contents of the analyses. I am especially saddened by it. I hope that he will be able to give a concrete justification."

Why probenecid?

The strangest part of this whole scenario is the product that Garzelli tested positive for: probenecid. Dr Michael Murray (Oregon Bicycle Racing Association) provided the following description of the drug, that was in the spotlight during the 1988 Tour de France when Pedro Delgado tested positive to it while in the lead. It was not on the UCI banned list then, but did not take long once Delgado won the Tour

"Probenecid is not exactly a diuretic, although increased urination is an effect that can be noted. It is not used medically for the diuretic effect. It is a bit like saying caffeine or alcohol are diuretics. They are diuretics but you don't have your cup of coffee in the AM or your pint in the PM in order to enjoy the increase in urination.

Probenecid acts by effecting the renal tubule. It either inhibits secretion or blocks re-absorption of many other substances. This is why it has the medical utility that it has. In gout it blocks tubular reabsorption of uric acid which causes the uric acid excretion to increase. This causes the serum and ultimately the synovial fluid uric acid level to go down. This decreases the chance of crystallization of uric acid in the joint which is what causes the arthritis in gout.

For treatment of gonorrhoea, probenecid decreases the tubular excretion of beta lactam antibiotics, like penicillin, so the penicillin level remains higher longer so it is more effective.

Probenecid decreases the renal excretion of steroids. This makes it so less steroid makes it into the urine so the urine test becomes falsely negative. In order to do this you need to take roughly 10 times the usual dose of probenecid. The drill would be; you get notified of a pending drug test, you empty your bladder and take a whopping dose of probenecid blocking further excretion of steroids, now give your specimen with (hopefully) a smaller amount of steroid present in the specimen.

The various governing bodies could have addressed the issue of legitimate vs. illicit use of probenecid by simply banning concentrations over a proscribed limit. They have failed to do this, probably because the use of probenecid is uncommon, although there is at least one case (Australian swimmer Richard Upton) who was penalised for what was in all likelihood legitimate use (low levels, affidavits from physicians indicating prescribed use).

It is not unusual, in my experience, for physicians to be unfamiliar with the nuances of treating athletes with regards to banned substances. Many doctors seem to think that any drug is acceptable as long as there is a legitimate need. This is definitely not true. There are many drugs not allowed regardless of legitimate medical need. One would hope that a professional athlete like Garzelli would be less subject to this problem then the average weekend warrior, but that may not be the case.

There is no reason why he would be taking probenecid. It has no performance enhancing properties and, since it is itself a banned agent, it has no utility as a "blocking" agent. In addition, modern tests which look for smaller concentrations of steroids and the presence of steroid metabolites make probenecid less useful as a blocking agent.

In addition, there is really no reason to believe that steroids, either anabolic or corticosteroids, would have any performance enhancing effect for events like the Giro, although they have been used there. On the other hand there is also no reason to be carrying in your suitcase an out dated and improperly stored hemoglobin substitute that had been removed from clinical trials because it caused more deaths in the treatment group as Frigo was last year.

If Garzelli has probenecid in his urine then either it was given to him without his knowledge, there was an idiot treating him for gout or gonorrhoea or there was an idiot managing his performance enhancer regimen."

Policeman admits to supplying Varriale and co. with doping products

A former Neapolitan policeman, Armando Marzano, has admitted to supplying doping products to three cyclists from the region: Antonio Varriale (Panaria), Filippo Perfetto (Panaria) and Domenico Romano (Landbouwkrediet). Marzano was questioned by the prosecutor in Brescia today about his involvement in the affair, which has focussed on riders from the Panaria team. He added that he had not supplied anything to these riders for the past two years, and asserted that team captain Giuliano Figueras had not taken anything.

"Figueras is the only one that has talent and this is the reason, according to me, that he is clean," said Marzano.

Figueras is currently suspended for six months by the FCI for doping with insulin and growth hormone, while Varriale and Romano are under arrest. Perfetto has received a summons at his parents house in Naples and Nicola Chesini, who was also not named by Marzano, was arrested last Friday in conjunction with this affair.

Simoni non-negative for cocaine

A surprise anti-doping control carried out on the eve of the Tour of Trentino on April 24 has revealed that the defending champion of the Giro d'Italia, Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) has tested non-negative for cocaine, a banned stimulant. Simoni was among 15 riders tested that day by the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA), as well as Roberto Sgambelluri (Mercatone Uno), who turned out to be non-negative for Nesp, an improved form of EPO.

Simoni can demand a counter-analysis to confirm the result before he is forced out of the Giro, and that is expected to take a few days. Perhaps then we'll see a battle between Casagrande, Hamilton, Savoldelli and Evans for the overall honours?

It's another body blow for the race that yesterday lost Stefano Garzelli, with several other riders (Perfetto, Chesini, Varriale, Romano and possibly Sgambelluri) all being caught up in doping affairs of one sort or another.

Saeco-Longoni Sport has called a press conference at 11:00am local time to discuss the matter.

(The term "non-negative" is a UCI definition. A "positive" is determined only when both A and B samples are positive. Until then it's "non-negative". Ed)