Italian cyclist Davide Rebellin wants to return to the top this year after his doping ban ends. He aims to win cycling’s biggest one-day classics, and with a clear conscience.
“I have nothing to confess,” he told Italy’s La Stampa. “I never took CERA, I have no guilt, nor do I need to make amends. If I had doped, I would not have gone to the Olympics. I’m not stupid, I knew that they could already find certain substances easily.”
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Rebellin won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics behind Spain’s Samuel Sánchez. Rebellin’s blood samples, however, showed traces of blood booster EPO-CERA in retroactive testing.
On April 28, over eight months later and after Rebellin had won the Flèche Wallonne classic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) informed the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) that its cyclist tested positive. The CONI ruled he was guilty and forced him to return the medal along with €75,000 in winnings. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected Rebellin’s appeal in July 2010 and cleared the way for third place finisher, Swiss Fabian Cancellara to take the silver medal.
Rebellin insists there was an error.
“I don’t know why, really. I think it was an error, a switch of test tubes, a flawed lab analysis, poor preservation of the samples. There were many anomalies,” he said.
“In Beijing I gave three samples: four days before the race, the day before and after the race. In all, there should be six tubes, two per sample, but I was told that there were seven and that only one sample was positive. And the others?
“When my samples were taken, there was only Chinese staff, who did not speak other languages. Nobody knows where the samples were kept, there is not even an official date on the positive sample that was given to me. And then the anti-CERA test had not yet been endorsed by WADA, it was only about a year later.”
The IOC’s retroactive testing also caught cyclist Stefan Schumacher and track and field athlete Rashid Ramzi.
Rebellin appealed the findings to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but it ruled against him. He received in September a two-year ban from the cycling federation in Monaco, where he holds a pro racing licence: April 27, 2009 to April 27, 2011.
Despite turning 40 this year, he wants to return to rebuild his image and his credibility. He says that he wants to be the one to decide when he should retire.
“I’m sure of what I am doing. In this two-year ban, I trained almost every day, and will sign with a new team soon. I am still deciding between two teams, one is part of the ProTour [World Tour],” added Rebellin.
“I want to prove that I did not win while doping. I still dream of Liège-Bastogne-Liège or Flèche Wallonne, which I have already won, but also the Tour of Flanders, I have never raced it, and finally, the Tour of Lombardy.”
Prior to his ban, Rebellin was one of cycling’s most accomplished riders. He is the only cyclist to win the Ardennes triple – Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – in one year, in 2004.
Doping, however, clouded his past.
Police filmed him seven years prior to the Olympics asking for drugs. Rebellin and his wife Selina Martinello were caught on police surveillance video at Doctor Enrico Lazzaro’s office on May 14, 2001, and with Lazzaro at a Bassano del Grappa hotel at the Giro d’Italia later that year. At the hotel, Rebellin reportedly bought testosterone and EPO.
Lazzaro later received a 14-month suspension, but Rebellin continued racing, winning Ardennes Classics, Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice. Only the IOC finally stopped him for EPO-CERA.
Rebellin’s first race back may be the three-week Giro d’Italia stage race this May. Team Astana is reportedly interested in signing him to support its leader Roman Kreuziger.