Although only 6 riders have tested positive this year out of 7-800 blood tests, local Italian magistrates obviously don’t believe the sport is clean.
Wednesday night 200 police and drugs officials raided team hotels, as well as searching cars and vans, the night before the crucial mountain stage that would have been the ultimate showdown between leader Simoni and hard fighting ex-leader Dario Frigo.
Police sources and assorted gossip tell tales of riders found on intravenous drips, leaping from first floor windows, over 300 bottles, jars, syringes, ampoules and packets of “medical products” being taken away for laboratory examination in Florence, as well as Pantani’s masseur being found trying to leave with a bag of ‘reinvigorants’.
Meanwhile the riders are up in arms, claiming (quite rightly) that the riders and the race are being humiliated and their sport and the Giro compromised by the heavy handed police action. This led to a riders meeting which included sponsors, team leaders, the UCI president and even a phonecall from the deputy of the Italian president. Yesterday’s key stage was first shortened, then completely abandoned, before the riders agreed to race today’s stage and continue to the finish in Milan.
With such a blunt attack on professional cycling coming just a month before the start of the ‘Tour – which was crippled by a similar raid in 1998 – the Police are going to have to come up with some good evidence to justify the damage they’ve caused to sponsors and a sport that’s already got the most stringent doping regulations to them all. On the other hand, if the immediate expulsion policy of most teams on doped riders, plus increased and more accurate drug testing reduces the problem in the sport then that’s got to be a good thing for those entering the professional sport.