The Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) has banned two Italian team managers for three months, ruling them out of the Giro d'Italia and other events, because they charged cyclists to race in their teams.
Trek-Segafredo rider Marco Coledan, has also been banned for refusing to testify in the case.
The federation banned Gianni Savio and Angelo Citracca, managers of Androni Giocattoli and Wilier Triestina respectively, for three months after the made riders to pay for professional contracts to ride on their teams.
Wilier earned one of the four wildcard invitations to the Giro d'Italia, but the ruling means that Citracca will be unable to follow his team.
The FCI acquitted Bruno Reverberi, team manager of Bardiani-CSF, the other Italian team to earn a Giro wildcard together with Polish team CCC Sprandi Polkowice and Russian team Gazprom-RusVelo.
It is a bad sign for Italian cycling, which for the first time in modern cycling lacks a top-level professional team, with the case hitting two of the country's major teams just weeks ahead of the start of the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia (May 5 to 28).
Olympic omnium gold medallist and Team Sky's Italian sprinter Elia Viviani spoke with the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) in June. He provided details how Reverberi would not allow Marco Coledan, now with Trek-Segafredo, to leave his contract unless he paid a penalty.
"He had a contract for one more year, I wanted him on my Liquigas team, but the sum to leave was €15,000," Viviani said. "That's reasonable. He could do that since Liquigas would pay €80,000. I was going to help him pay it. Then Reverberi asked for around 30-40 thousand. Coledan remained another year with Bardiani before joining Trek-Segafredo."
Watch: Giro d'Italia essential guide
Coledan, who rode in support of John Degenkolb in E3 Harelbeke on Friday, has been given a 15 day ban for not testifying meaning that he will not be able to ride either the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
Matteo Mammini, a former Italian time trial champion, said that Gianni Savio asked for €50,000 from him to have a professional contract with Androni, but he did not pay. Patrick Facchini, another former rider, said that he, and other cyclists like Marco Frapporti and Antonio Parrinello, had to bring sponsors to the team to race for Savio.
Italian journalist Marco Bonarrigo exposed the system in an article he wrote for Corriere della Sera last year.
"A system that accepts only cyclists who are able to bring in sponsors, then that does not allow them to go to more competitive teams if they don't pay a penalty," Olympic committee prosecutor Massimo Ciardullo said in November. "The result? If you are talented and don't pay, you stay put as a prisoner."
In a statement Savio said that he is "shocked" and that he will contest the decision, but risks a longer sentence if he loses an appeal.
The FCI had initially found Savio and Citracca not guilty over the claims, but was made to reopen the case by CONI.
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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