Mario Cipollini linked to Fuentes doping ring, says newspaper
Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport claims that Mario Cipollini doped his way through his magical 2002 season - including wins in Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem and the World Championship.
The newspaper linked Italy's retired sprint star to the Operación Puerto doping investigation centred on Spanish Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
"From Super Mario to Maria," wrote the newspaper this morning, referring to the code name it claims Cipollini used with Fuentes.
Ivan Basso used the codename 'Birillo', Jan Ullrich as 'Hijo Rudicio', Alejandro Valverde as 'Valv Piti'... The Italian newspaper's reporter in Madrid, Filippo Maria Ricci began to follow the court case in the last two weeks and linked Cipollini via his fax number.
"The documents seem to unequivocally reveal, for the first time, the month-by-month doping plan," read the article, "with an impressive amount of EPO, hormones and steroids, plus notes of his payments to Fuentes."
Cipollini, according to the newspaper, also transfused blood, a common practice among Fuentes' clients.
When contacted, Cipollini preferred to wait until the documents are in his hands to comment.
If true, the evidence erases the spectacular 2002 season Cipollini enjoyed. He announced his retirement after San Remo because his Acqua & Sapone team failed to receive an invitation to the Tour de France. He returned and gave Italy its first win in 10 years at the World Championships in Zolder.
According to the article, Cipollini withdrew blood for six bags and infused seven in 2002. Ahead of the Worlds, he infused two of those bags. He made payments to Fuentes of €15,000 and €25,000 in the same year.
The case also casts doubt over his career, which includes 12 stages in the Tour de France and a record 42 in the Giro d'Italia. According to the article, Cipollini is linked to the codename 'Maria' from 2001 to 2004.
Spanish cyclist Jesús Manzano said Cipollini was a Fuentes client some years back, but nothing ever came of the allegations.
Oddly enough, when he came back from retirement in 2008, Cipollini rode for US team Rock Racing. The team made a name for itself by hiring several riders linked to Puerto, including Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla.
Cipollini retired again at the end of the 2008 season.
On May 23, 2006, Spain's Guardia Civil raided Fuentes' offices in Madrid and other locations. They recovered 206 coded blood bags ready to be infused into their owners. Of the bags, 99 have been identified.
The case involves 58 cyclists and, according to Fuentes, athletes from tennis, football and boxing. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has pushed recently for all the names to be released, but the judge in an ongoing case has blocked Fuentes from naming his clients.
The court case re-opened on January 28. It continues on Monday, but the names like Cipollini's are coming via other means.
23 November 2011: Operacion Puerto doping ring - suspects finally to go on trial
9 December 2010: Operacion Puerto's Fuentes under investigation again in new anti-doping raids
2 October 2008: Operacion Puerto, case closed again
10 December 2008: Schleck cleared of Puerto involvement
15 February 2008: Operacion Puerto: It's back
27 September 2008: Frank Schleck under Puerto suspicion after police raid
14 November 2007: Dick Pound (WADA): "Not just cyclists in Puerto"
30 June 2007: Jaksche lifts lid on Operaction Puerto
23 April 2007: UCI issues Operacion Puerto open letter
December 2006: Fuentes - 51 riders to be questioned