Marta Bastianelli’s Rainbow Year was the worst of her life
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bastianelli’s Rainbow Year was the worst of her life

by Ben Atkins at 4:07 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping

For 2007 World Champion Marta Bastianelli, 2008 should have been her best year in cycling, instead it turned out to be her worst. A positive test for banned substance fenfluromine – an amphetimine derivative, often used as a weight loss aid – saw her suspended for two years, just before the Olympic Games in Beijing. Two years later the 22-year-old is preparing to make her comeback.

Her suspension ends on July 5th this year, just slightly too late for her liking, as she told la Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Unfortunately [I’ve seen the new race calendar]. I say ‘unfortunately’ because the Giro d’Italia starts three days before the end of my suspension,. It was important to ride it: a showcase, an opportunity, to make an appointment, with a view to my eventual participation in the World Championships. But it is what it is, and so I have to deal with it."

"Yes, and this time I wish for good luck. I want to ride everything I can, until the World Championships. Three months of trying to prove myself, and to be on display; after two years of sleep. It will be tough, but I think I can do it… I don’t know what else I could do to get ahead. I've done everything for the love of cycling."

"I was naïve; terribly naïve,” she said of her time as World champion. “I was 20 and the rainbow jersey was bigger than me; it weighed too much, I trusted everyone who gave me advice, and I was obsessed with my weight. Now I can say that my year as World Champion, instead of being the most beautiful of my life was the ugliest. Too much responsibility."

From hero to zero

Bastianelli was a surprise winner of the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, as she took the rainbow jersey with a solo attack on the final lap. The then 20-year-old Italian won alone ahead of defending champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands) and Italian teammate Giorgia Bronzini.

Despite a promising spring that saw her achieve a third-place finish in the Gran Premio Brissago-Lago Maggiore in Switzerland and a second place in la Flèche Wallonne in Belgium, it all started to go wrong for the young World Champion. A judgement from the UCI that her Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan team was too closely aligned to the Titanedi-Freza-Acca Due O team of Bronzini and Lithuanian Diana Ziliute meant that both teams were unable to compete in the same races. She spent the first half of the year racing in the colours of the Italian national team, but moved over to the CMax Dila team in the June transfer window in order to ride the Giro d’Italia.

After a creditable 9th in that Giro, news of the positive doping test was announced.  It came from a control taken after a bronze medal ride in the European Under-23 Championships – and her season ended. A one-year ban imposed by the Italian Olympic Association (CONI) – who apparently sympathised with her defence that she had not knowingly taken the drug – was increased to two by the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) after a successful appeal by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

While serving her suspension she continued to train, but a crash on a descent saw her break her jaw and need reconstructive surgery on her face.

"Many times [I’ve thought have giving up],” she said, “but every time I got up and walked away I had to get used to another life. Before I was never home between October to January; back then I was a nomad but now I have rediscovered my family a little instead.”

Comeback team – take two

In 2009 Bastianelli signed a contract with the Selle Italia-Ghezzi team – to come into effect had the UCI’s appeal failed. This year though, she has no contract with a UCI team; riding instead with the Fiamme Azzure (the Blue Flames) the sports team of the Italian Prison Service, of which she is a member. Other members include current World and Italian Champions Tatiana Guderzo and Monia Baccaille.

"They've been there for me, and for that I thank them,” she said. Even after the accident I had on my bike, and when I suffered a period of illness. On January 11, I will enter service, part time, in a penitentiary in Velletri, 5 kilometres from my home in Lariano.”

Working – even part-time – places restrictions on her training, but this will not be a problem once her suspension is over.

“Until now I’ve had a choice when to train. I prefer the morning, but sometimes could also postpone the workout in the afternoon. But now I will have only the morning, in the afternoon I will go to work anyway. It is a male prison, I will be in uniform in an office for administrative purposes. When I return to racing, I will be able to do it full time."

Training like she’s racing next week

Despite there being almost six months until her suspension ends, Bastianelli is treating her training as though it were a normal season, even taking in a training camp over the holiday period.

"I haven’t stopped,” she said. “On Christmas, December 21 to 30, I was in the Canary Islands with one of my cycling friends and I was training well. I was there two years ago with the team, and in those parts with the wind – it's so strong in the Canaries, not coincidentally where they held the World Surfing Championships – it would be better to work with a team. I remember that sometimes, after riding a hundred kilometres we’d arrive back at the hotel we’d want the team staff. This time we had to do it all ourselves."

Her return to Italy though has presented problems of its own for her training.

“This is not a mild winter in Rome. There is bad weather, but we ride inside. And I have a fantastic personal trainer: my brother Alessandro Proni – a professional, currently looking for employment. It is a very difficult time for everyone."

New Italian champions

In Bastianelli’s absence there is now a new Italian World Champion in the shape of Tatiana Guderzo. At the World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland last year Guderzo won gold in the road race and teammate Noemi Cantele took the bronze; this followed Cantele’s silver in the time trial a few days before.

Bastianelli couldn’t be more pleased for her countrywomen.

"I'm very happy for Tatiana Guderzo and Noemi Cantele,” she confirmed. “They deserve it. We shared travel, racing, emotions... Noemi was so close to getting both gold medals. When I won, she said to me 'Just get me the gold next year', meaning the 2008 World Championships, in Varese: her home."

The post-suspension Marta Bastianelli will be doing things differently. Previous obsessions over her weight – an indirect cause, she claimed, of her doping violation – have been put behind her.

"I have grown my nails a bit longer...” she joked, “and I have put on weight. Before I was 49kg, I am now at 56kg, although I do have something to lose – but without doing myself harm. It's all health. The difference is that before I had a problem, now I accept myself for who I am. It is said that [extra weight] is a disadvantage, in fact maybe now I'll have a little more power.”

Whether or not Marta Bastianelli makes a successful return to the upper echelons of the sport remains to be seen, but the 2007 World Champion will be hoping to make up for two years worth of lost time.


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