Cristian Fanini Interview: Italian speaks about Ricco, Gerlach, Armstrong, Landis and Hamilton
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Cristian Fanini Interview: Italian speaks about Ricco, Gerlach, Armstrong, Landis and Hamilton

by Ed Hood at 9:30 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping
Amore & Vita team owner talks anti-doping

Cristian FaniniAmore & Vita have fielded a UCI team every since 1990. Six day stars like Bruno Risi and Marco Villa cut their teeth with the squad; and riders at the end of their careers – like Pierino Gavazzi - have also ridden for the Italian based, but now Ukraine-registered team.

Garmin’s rising US star Andrew Talansky rode for them, as did Ukrainian flyer and former Costa Etruschi winner, Yuriy Metlushenko who took three UCI wins last year and six in 2009.

Before the advent of the UCI ‘divisions’ and then the Continental/Pro Continental/ProTour categorisation, the team was a regular on the Giro and Vuelta, taking stage wins in both races.

The team is owned and managed by the Fanini family - father Ivan and son Cristian – and has always been run on a culture of transparency and ‘clean’ riding, long before these became fashionable buzz words.

Cristian Fanini has oft been described as ‘out spoken’ on the subject of drugs and the peloton – current revelations demonstrate that many of his ‘controversial’ and ‘alarmist’ statements were in fact accurate.

But another cornerstone of the Italian’s philosophy is that people deserve a second chance; former US star Chad Gerlach was a rider who Fanini helped – albeit briefly – to get his life back on track after drugs and alcohol abuse.

Troubled Italian Riccardo Ricco is another such rider. A contract had been prepared for the talented but scandal-prone ‘Cobra;’ but gone midnight, the deal unwound when the Italian signed for Croatian Continental team Meridiana Kamen. We asked Cristian Fanini what went wrong.

Cristian Fanini: To tell you the truth, we’re speechless – but we did think that maybe our involvement with him might end like this.

He approached us with his personal masseur and press agent – who is also his friend – and he said to us that we were the only ones who could help him; [he said] the entire world thinks he is still a doper, but he was actually just the victim of a virus.

The initial contact was by phone but we wanted to look into his eyes as he spoke to us and we arranged a meeting.

He told us that he admitted nothing to the doctor about taking ‘bad blood’ and that the medico was just in search of publicity.

He said he was clean and wanted to come back.

We decided it was not for us the judge him – the authorities would do that – and we would give him a second chance; but he had to prove to us that he was clean.

He said that the world thought he was a doper and he was ready to take our opportunity to show them that he was clean and was happy to come back with us.

But we had to set certain conditions:

1. He had to stop working with his entourage – the team has its own personnel and we had no room for them.
2. He had to come and live – all expenses paid and with his family – in one of our team houses - which are within one kilometre of our headquarters - so as we could monitor him.
3. He had to talk with the relevant authorities about his doping activities.

We have cooperated with the authorities since 1996 and whilst we didn’t necessarily want him to name names, he had never spoken about his taking of EPO and CERA in 2008. We wanted him to talk about that.

Riccardo RiccoRicco has great talent, he could be perhaps become a Basso or a Contador; and whilst we’re a small team, we could have re-launched him.

That meeting was on the Friday and he was meant to see us again on the Monday to sign the contract – the bikes, clothing and a training camp in Sicily were all in place for him.

And then he disappeared – we couldn’t get him or his agent on the phone; but eventually he called and said he needed a little more time.

We decided to set a deadline of 48 hours for him to get back to us – he didn’t answer or calls or messages and when we heard that he had signed for the Croatian team, we felt a little cheated.

VeloNation: Amore & Vita is Ukrainian-registered for 2011…

CF: The UCI registration procedures for a Continental team demand that it is registered in the country where the most of its riders are domiciled. Last season our rider Yuriy Metlushenko said to us that he wanted to focus very seriously on the Worlds in Melbourne, so we recruited five Ukrainian riders to back him and that’s why we’re registered there.

VN: But Yuriy is no longer with you?

CF: No, he was made promises by Lampre, who now have a connection with the Ukrainian ISD company, but the promises were never kept and he’s not racing…but he’s free to come back to us.

VN: Have you had any contact with Chad Gerlach?

CF: It’s nearly one year since I heard from Chad; he raced for us in 2009 (scoring wins in the US) and we had signed him for 2010, but in January of that year he pulled out of the agreement and said that he didn’t want to be a cyclist any more.

We were close to his family and tried to help, but [as far as Fanini knows] he’s burned all his bridges with them and his friends and he’s back on the street. It’s hard to run a 36 year-old guy’s life for him!

VN: The drugs scandals must make it harder for you to attract sponsors for the team?

Amore & VitaCF: It’s not easy, cycling has lost a lot of credibility with potential sponsors – they look at you and say; ‘what guarantees do we have there will be no doping problems?’

Amore & Vita has never had a drugs scandal – but we have taken on riders who have problems to try to let them redeem themselves. It’s difficult, but we always seem to find sponsors who believe in us.

VN: What’s your opinion on Tyler Hamilton’s recent revelations?

CF: It’s a strange situation; whilst I appreciate what he said recently, he should have spoken out earlier. You have the feeling that perhaps he is speaking to make money – and because it’s comfortable for him, now.

I would respect him much more if he’d had the courage to talk like that immediately – it’s useless to say; ‘I was innocent’ for all that time and then say, ‘well, no, I wasn’t.’

VN: And Landis?

CF: Pretty much the same – he cheated the sport, the fans and now he’s making all these accusation against Armstrong.

I’m not saying he’s lying but there’s a time for everything and now is too late for him – he should have spoken out years ago.

VN: What about Lance?

CF: I wouldn’t put my hand in the fire for him, but he’s man who has inspired millions – he was born a champion; a world class triathlete as a junior and the youngest ever professional world road race champion.

Maybe he took something, but if he did he was only a part of the 80% of the peloton who were doing the same thing – he’s a man in a million.

VN: What are your views on the biological passport?

CF: I think that it’s working but it needs to be done properly…Ricco had a biological passport!
It requires very competent people to analyse the data.

VN: And what about those who have tested positive being excluded from the Italian championships?

CF: Great news! A step forward, I would extend it to the Worlds and Grand Tours. You can see as well as me who are winning stages in Grand Tours – many of them have been caught before and returned. If they knew there would be no more Grand Tours then they’d perhaps think twice.

VN: A year or two ago, the agreement was to make Grand Tours easier so as riders didn’t need to dope – but then you look at this year’s Giro . . .

CF: The Giro this year was too hard; if you want to change the culture of the sport, it’s not just the teams and riders. The organisers must do things differently. The courses should not be so brutal; you can still have a good show with shorter stages and less mountains – if it’s so hard then it will encourage riders to ‘take something’ to help them get through.

VN: A top rider once said to me; ‘all the best Italian guys still take something.’

CF: I agree that there are still a lot of guys who take something – but it’s not just Italians. And look at Nibali, he’s a good example of a rider who I think isn’t taking anything to be the rider he is.

But if they continue to make the last week of Grand Tours as hard as the Giro’s was, then it’s hard to race it ‘clean.’

VN: If there was just one change you could make to pro cycling?

CF: Honestly? I’d give life time bans for first drugs offences. Now, that’s in contrast to our team ethos of giving second chances but I think that riders look at the risk and think; ‘if I’m caught it’s only two years, I can wait that out then come back and get to the top and make big money, again.’

If it was a lifetime ban they were looking at then they’d definitely think twice. And one more thing – I’d want consistency, one guy who gets caught with clenbuterol in his system shouldn’t get a one year ban whilst another guy walks away free.


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