Retired sprinter Mario Cipollini is under investigation after newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport alleged that he doped. The Italian allegedly used a mix of EPO, testosterone and steroids along with blood transfusions to achieve his wins, including the World Championship title in 2002.
A statement on Monday from the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) in Rome read, “Following the recent media reports about Mario Cipollini, the anti-doping prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the ‘related acts’.”
The Italian sports newspaper this week exposed Cipollini’s links to Spain’s Operación Puerto investigation. He worked with doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes under the code name Maria from 2001 to 2004, paying €130,000.
Its reporter based in Spain, Filippo Maria Ricci obtained documents related to an ongoing trail. They showed doping plans, payments and, the crucial link, Cipollini’s fax number from his Lucca home.
Dots and lines indicated EPO doses, asterisks for human growth hormones, Es for blood extractions and Rs for infusions. In 2002 – the year he won Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem and the Worlds – Cipollini withdrew blood for six bags and infused seven. Ahead of Zolder, he ‘freshened up’ with two of those bags.
The ‘Lion King’ appears more like Doping Fiend or Super Maria as the articles, which made the front page in Sunday’s edition, cast a long shadow over his career. From 1989 to 2008, Cipollini won 12 stages in the Tour de France and a record 42 stages in the Giro d’Italia – all now tainted by alleged doping.
“Cipollini: A broken champion,” read the newspaper’s headline when the story broke. “Transfusions, EPO, hormones. Ten years later, his Worlds season is dirtied.”
CONI’s two lawyers in Madrid for the Puerto trials, Guido Valori and Ignacio Arroyo have access to the same documents that the Gazzetta printed in its article. They will share the information in the newly open Cipollini investigation.
Cipollini retired for a second time five years ago, in 2008, but the CONI prosecutor could decide to strip his titles and issue a fine.
The 45-year-old denies the doping allegations. In a letter issued by his lawyer, he offered to prove his innocence via DNA. The blood bags seized in the 2006 police raids, however, would not belong to him as he stopped working with Fuentes in 2004.
Operación Puerto kicked off in May 2006 with a series of raids in Spain. Police seized 206 blood bags and other evidence.
Only Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, Jörg Jaksche and Alejandro Valverde served racing suspensions for their ties. The case, however, allegedly involves 58 cyclists and, according to Fuentes, athletes from tennis, football and boxing.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recently pushed for all the names to be released, but the judge in an ongoing case has blocked Fuentes from naming the athletes.
The court case re-opened on January 28. Basso and Jaksche testified Monday, and Joseba Beloki and Isidro Nozal had their turns yesterday. Today, Jesús Manzano appears in court and in Rome, CONI scrutinizes one of Italy’s greats.