Ulissi’s Giro return fans flames of MPCC debate

Lampre-Merida's Diego Ulissi returns to the Giro d'Italia, where he enjoyed success in 2014 but also ran afoul of anti-doping tests

Photo: TDW

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LA SPEZIA, Italy (VN) — Italian Diego Ulissi returned to the Giro d’Italia this week, where he scored his biggest wins and where it fell apart for him last year over an anti-doping test.

The Tuscan served a nine-month suspension and returned to his “family,” Lampre-Merida. Team Lampre used the case, along with that of Chris Horner’s, as a reason to say ‘ciao’ to the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) voluntary anti-doping association.

Ulissi’s test and Horner’s, as well as others, like LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett on Friday, only further called into question the sense of two sets of rules: a compulsory one created by the UCI and MPCC’s voluntary one.

“I don’t even think about it,” Ulissi told VeloNews on hot morning in Rapallo. “I’m just happy to be back racing in the Giro d’Italia, where I scored my biggest wins in my career.”

The Tuscan cyclist won two stages in the 2014 Giro and placed second to Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) in the Barolo time trial before abandoning. Anti-doping tests later revealed that he over-used asthma drug Salbutamol in the 11th stage to Savona, just down the road from Rapallo. Cycling great Belgian Eddy Merckx also tested positive in Savona.

Ulissi used an inhaler with Salbutamol spray that day and according to the team, took two puffs and a paracetamol from the race doctor after crashing. They said that could have resulted in the high reading, over the limit of 1000ng/ml.

“I thought that Lampre would stand beside me,” Ulissi added. “I’ve been with this team for six years and it’s like a family for me.”

Lampre agreed to MPCC’s rules on low cortisol levels ahead of the 2014 Vuelta a España and sent home defending champion Horner. The Italian team in blue and pink began to have its doubts, however, after Ulissi, 25, returned from his ban.

“The situation was complicated,” team manager, Brent Copeland said. “We can follow the MPCC’s rules, but there’s a much higher set of rules that we have to take into consideration, those worker liability laws in Switzerland where the team is based.”

Ulissi’s ban ran for nine months, through March 28, shorter than his contract that ran through 2015. When it ended, he was still a Lampre rider even if the MPCC’s voluntary rules read that a team should not hire a rider for the two years following his return. That same rule blocked Astana from bringing onboard Franco Pellizotti in December 2013.

Lampre could have not raced Ulissi and faced a possible lawsuit, and potentially seen Ulissi join a non-MPCC team. At the time, six WorldTour teams were not part of the MPCC: BMC, Movistar, Etixx-Quick-Step, Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, and Trek. Or, Lampre could have quit the MPCC and continued racing with Ulissi. It chose the latter and sent him to Vuelta al País Vasco.

“I’m sure people think that [we quit MPCC just to race Ulissi], but that’s not the case,” Copeland added.

“Obviously both of those cases [Ulissi and Horner] helped us make up our mind. The biggest decision was because when you have too many organizations, it becomes complicated for everyone.”

Copeland said that he tried to contact MPCC president, Roger Legeay before the team’s decision in March, but was unable. Legeay called the situation “very unfortunate” in a press release and said that Lampre lost its voluntary spirit when it had a doping case.

Other teams have not contacted Copeland on the issue, but they could follow in his footsteps. LottoNL-Jumbo had to start the Giro d’Italia with only eight cyclists after Bennett’s failed test for low cortisol levels. Had it not been a member, LottoNL could have raced the New Zealand rider just as Copeland could have started with Horner in the 2014 Vuelta.

Other non-member teams have raced ahead when they would have been stopped by the MPCC’s rules. Sky was free to race Chris Froome in the Tour de Romandie in 2014. Had it been an MPCC member, Froome could not have participated in the stage race, and won the overall, because he was taking Prednisone to treat a chest infection.

“It’s confusing with teams running under other rules,” UCI President Brian Cookson said in September. “If teams want to follow other rules, they can, but I think it’d be easier if they are all under the same rules.”

Legeay was unavailable for comment when contacted by VeloNews for this article.

Ulissi did not want to comment on the MPCC, which gathered speed following the Lance Armstrong scandal in 2012. He instead wanted to return to his job, which is trying to win a stage in the Giro d’Italia before it reaches Milan on May 31.

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