Italian Davide Rebellin became the oldest Italian to win the Giro dell’Emilia, and any race of its level, on Saturday in Bologna. When the 43-year-old raised his arms to show his Orange CCC Polsat team jersey at the San Luca finish above town, he also greeted a cheering public but one that remembers uglier times.
Rebellin also has the honour of being the only Italian medallist ever caught doping at the Olympics. After his 2008 Beijing silver medal in the road race, tests showed that he doped with a new form of blood booster EPO, called CERA. He never confessed, he said that he is not guilty and returned after his ban to race – albeit with only third and second division teams.
“The public cheers for me because the people look at the results, the worth of the man,” Rebellin said to Italian press after his win. “They applaud me for my grit. They love me even more because they see me suffer. I’m over 40, so it’s a good show of strength for the public.”
Rebellin’s silver medal at the 2008 Games came behind Spain’s Samuel Sánchez. In a retroactive test that was not announced until eight months later, after he had won the 2009 Flèche Wallonne and placed third in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, his blood samples showed he doped to achieve the result.
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) ruled that he was guilty and forced him to return the silver medal along with €75,000 in winnings. He appealed to sports’ high court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but lost. He claimed that there was an error, a mix-up of test tubes or flawed laboratory procedures.
The results in Bologna included other former dopers, like Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), but also new Italian talents like 24 year-old Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF) in fourth place and 19-year-old Davide Formolo (Cannondale) in sixth. Formolo was only two months old when, after helping Fabio Casartelli win the Barcelona Olympics, Rebellin won his first professional race, the 1992 Hofbrau Cup.
“People say that it’d be better if young riders won and had their space, but it’s like saying to a 50-year-old cyclo-tourist to stay at home and work, and not ride sportives,” Rebellin said.
“This win works because it shows at a good age that you can get results. It’s not just for young riders, but for older riders in sportives that help keep cycling alive. For those that love cycling. The young are the future, but you must think of the others.”
Rebellin raced for Polti, FDJ, Liquigas, Gerolsteiner and Diquigiovanni-Androni. He looked after himself well despite letting down a nation. He returned to race for third division teams Miche and Meridiana, and since 2013, with Poland’s orange-coloured second division team, CCC-Polsat. He explained that he will continue his pro career that started 22 years ago in 1992 and race in 2015.
Italian Davide Rebellin wants to return from ban for taking EPO with ride at the 2011 Giro d'Italia
Updated: Stefan Schumacher also disqualified after testing positive for CERA