With the Giro coming up in a week’s time who is the in-form Italian of the moment? Davide Rebellin is an obvious pick following his summit finish win in the Tour of Turkey earlier this week. His CCC-Sprandi team are riding the Giro and the Italian would make an obvious pick given his nationality, form, experience and is a match for the opening week’s hilly finishes. Only he’s not going and the rumour is he’s been blocked by Giro organisers RCS.
I understand that CCC Sprandi – Polkowice have been invited to the Giro on the proviso that they DON’T field Rebellin or Schumacher.
— Daniel Friebe (@friebos) January 19, 2015
Now when you learn that Rebellin won’t ride the Giro, your first reaction might be “yay” or “grazie“. That’s understandable, predictable. Busted for CERA after samples from the 2008 Olympics were retested, Rebellin disputed the procedure but eventually copped a two year ban, another “champion” of the Court of Arbitration of Sport with his bulging dossiers and bold legal flair. He got caught when many others of his generation probably rode through the anti-doping net making him a black sheep of a generational herd. It’s not about the past either, today his tragedy is that any triumph is awkward, he may win but many raise an eyebrow or point a suspicious finger in reflex. Just see his win in Turkey. Unfair? Perhaps but understandable. Maybe he doesn’t care anyway?
Rebellin has joined Polish team CCC-Sprandi and they got a wildcard invitation to ride the Giro. Why? Well they’re a reasonable squad, offer exposure to the growing Polish market and they’ve also curried support by sponsoring RCS races too. But one of their best riders, one of two Italians, won’t be there despite winning in Turkey. Sure Maciej Paterski, Grega Bole and Sylwester Szmyd bring options but so does Rebellin. So his exclusion on sporting and form terms looks odd. Is it age? It’s usually young riders who enter a race and quit mid-way but maybe the fortysomething can’t last the full three weeks. But even if he managed 10 days he’d find all sorts of terrain to suit him with uphill finishes, a bit like the 1996 Giro when he won Stage 7 atop Monte Sirino.
Nobody beyond journalist and writer Daniel Friebe seems to be public about Rebellin being blocked so let’s take this in the conditional. I suspect you’re still satisfied Rebellin’s going to spend May away from the Giro. As already said above Rebellin’s presence, yet alone a win, can be uncomfortable. It makes the past hard to compartmentalise as the past, it’s like claiming the dinosaurs are extinct only to open the newspapers and see Tyrannosaurus do a victory salute. But there’s a serious point here because races are not allowed to cherry-pick riders: if a rider is eligible under the UCI then they’re eligible to race.
It’s east to see how this could be become a free-for-all. More riders could be blocked because of a dodgy past but where is the line drawn? Riders over 40 who didn’t make a theatrical sofa-TV confession? Do we exclude all riders with a doping history? Well Alberto Contador got busted for clenbuterol and Ivan Basso has been banned too but both riders belong to a wealthy World Tour team so the Giro doesn’t have leverage over them. But Franco Pellizotti looks set to captain wildcard invitees Androni and he’s been thrown off the Giro podium for his bio passport, should someone have a word with them? Let’s not dwell too much, it’s easy to start drowning in bias, inconsistency and hypocrisy. The more fundamental point is that it’s a recipe for chaos. Continue with the idea and if a race wanted to stop an eligible rider one year what if next year they invited a banned one?
Yet the whole point is to have clear rules for participation. The rules are clear: if a rider is eligible to race after serving a doping ban then they can ride any suitable race, the privilege of selection is reserved only for the team management.
Davide Rebellin is hardly a must-have rider for the Giro and his absence will probably satisfy some. But look beyond the individual and the personal because this could be a systematic issue. We might not want him to ride in the Giro but we should be very wary if teams and races are blacklisting particular riders. Let’s continue to use the conditional tense as few are going on the record about this but if it was true then what comes next? It’s a small wedge in UCI’s door if eligibility rules are ignored and private deals cut to stop unsavoury riders, when a rider is allowed into one race but not another. Maybe you don’t want Rebellin to ride but do you want races picking riders? What next?