Poobah's Corner

200 Bags of Blood: The Mystery of “The Classics Guy from Luigi”

As mentioned last week, the trial of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who was at the heart of a doping program in the early 2000s, is still ongoing in Spain.

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Commencing in May 2006, the police investigation of Fuentes’ clandestine doping network was code-named “Operación Puerto” and resulted in the confiscation of close to 200 blood bags donated by pro-cyclists who were later to receive the transfusions during critical races as a way to enhance their performance. The bags were labeled with the cryptic nicknames Fuentes gave to his clients, yet many remain unmatched to their cyclist-donors. As secrets from Operación Puerto continue to be revealed, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is waiting to learn whether it will get access to these bags of blood in order to DNA match them to their donors—which may, for the first time, confirm the involvement of many current members of the pro-peloton. Of particular interest is the blood that was labeled as “No. 24 Clasicómano Luigi.” Originally, rider “Clasicómano Luigi” was believed to be cyclist Thomas Dekker, as previously reported by the Dutch Newspaper NRC.

Silence Lotto's team rider Dekker of the Netherlands cycles to finish third of the time trial and last stage of the Tour de Suisse cycling race in Bern

Dekker, of course, is the Dutch ex-Rabobank cyclist who was prevented from riding in the 2009 Tour de France for team Silence-Lotto because of a retroactive test carried out in 2007 that was positive for EPO. He served a two-year ban but started his comeback last year by signing with Garmin-Barracuda over much controversy. On first glance, the nickname “Clasicómano Luigi” seemed to fit Dekker, as he had been coached by Luigi Cecchini, an Italian doctor who has been investigated for involvement in doping but never indicted. “Clasicómano Luigi” means “classics guy from Luigi,” as the word “clasicómano” is thought to refer to a “guy who is good on the cobbled classics.” However, whereas Dekker is no stranger to the Classics (especially those of Ardennes Week), most would not consider him a “classics guy” necessarily. But who else could it be? Luigi Cecchini has coached many, many other cyclists over the years, and although it is believed that he did not provide or oversee doping with his trainees, many now suspect that he referred any interested client on to Dr. Fuentes. One such individual was Tyler Hamilton.

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Interestingly, Hamilton just sat down with cyclingnews.com for an exclusive interview yesterday. He recounted a story from the 2008 Tour of California, when he and several other Rock Racing teammates were not allowed to race because of their suspected involvement in the Operación Puerto scandal. Despite not being allowed to race, he continued to travel with the team and would be present at each stage’s start and finish. According to Hamilton, his presence was not appreciated by “a prominent rider,” whom he does not name specifically but refers to as “Luigi.”

‘These guys shouldn’t be at the event’ the athlete told the press, pointing out that Hamilton’s and several of his teammates had been involved in Operación Puerto. Hamilton was at the race but wasn’t racing.

During the next stage several of the Rock riders circled behind the offending rider. ‘Hey Luigi’ they heckled. ‘Luigi, fuck you.’

We don’t know for sure who “Luigi” is in this exchange. What we do know, however, is that it is not Thomas Dekker. He didn’t race at the Tour of California that year. But we can refer to an older article written at the time of the 2008 Tour to get an idea who Hamilton was speaking about. In this 2008 VeloNews piece, a prominent rider is quoted as saying this in regards to a trio of Rock Racing cyclists:

“They think they can ride their bikes and be at the start line but they still have problems on their shoulders and that is not good for our sport. They have to really think about what they did and not be here to make a show and say ‘I can’t start and that’s not good.’ I don’t want to say names but I think everybody knows who I’m talking about.”

The individual who said these things to the press, whose actions are very similar to those mentioned in the recent Hamilton interview, who was also being coached by Luigi Cecchini, who was at the 2008 Tour of California, and who is most certainly considered a “classics guy” is Fabian Cancellara.

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In 2006, as the Operación Puerto story was breaking, Spanish paper El Pais reported that when Fuentes’ assistant, hematologist Jose Luis Merino Batres was arrested, he was carrying an accounts receivable ledger that contained the following written in it:

1 – Hijo Rudicio. 2 – Birillo. 4 – Nicolas. 5 – Sevillano. 6 – Sancti Petri. 12
– Guti. 13 – Serrano (alcalde). 14 – RH. 16 – Vicioso. 17 – Porras. 19 – Oso. 20
– Bella (Jörg). 24 – Clasicómano (Luigi). 25 – Amigo de Birillo. 26-Huerta. 32 –
Zapatero. 33 – Clasicómano.

There are two references to a “Clasicómano.”  The first is “24 – Clasicomano (Luigi),” and the second is “33 – Clasicómano.” In the first part of 2006, Fabian Cancellara (born March 1981) was 24 years old. Coincidence? Or maybe the #24 means something else? Certainly, the other numbers don’t refer to the other cyclists’ ages. But also consider this tweet from former Rock Racing cyclist Michael Creed in response to Cancellara suggesting that cycling is being over-criticized for its doping:

creed tweet

There is a good quote from the movie Magnolia that goes something like this. You may think you are done with the past, but the past is not done with you. WADA is waiting patiently to get its hands on Fuentes’ 200 bags of blood. And Thomas Dekker has recently agreed to talk with the Dutch Anti-Doping Agency and give full details of everything he knows—the first professional to offer such a full-blown, tell-all confessional of this nature (not under the duress of receiving a penalty) since Floyd Landis.

I think there are probably more than a few guys in the pro-peloton sweating right now. Could Spartacus be one of them?

You can read more on this topic in the cyclingnews clinic forum about Thomas Dekker here. Full credit to all the contributors to that thread who provided the links for this synopsis.

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5 thoughts on “200 Bags of Blood: The Mystery of “The Classics Guy from Luigi”

  1. Pingback: Pseudo Random News and Comment | Mortality Sucks

  2. The names/numbers from the accounts receivable file look like race results. The people with the lowest numbers are among the best riders known to have used Fuentes: “Hejo Rudicio” was Ullrich, “Birillo” was Basso, and “Sevillano” was Oscar Sevilla. Conversely, worse riders have higher numbers: “Bella” is Jorg Jaksche, “Amigo de Birillo” is Michele Scarponi who was not particularly strong at that time. It’s entirely conceivable that Fuentes had some sort of pay-for-performance program, in which case that would be relevant to receivables.

    I haven’t been able to match the race in a few minutes of looking, but it is indeed a race result then it should be easy enough to match up for somebody with enough spare time. Start with ones that Ullrich won, and then work your way down…

  3. Excellent comment – thank you! I always wondered if Ullrich was underwhelmed about his nickname (Hejo Rudicio meaning ‘son of Rudy.’) It’s so Middle Earth…..Is that really the best Fuentes could do? Thanks again –

    CCPB

    • Happy Father’s Day to the big Daddy of the house! Kaya pala nawala ka kasi nag crash ang iyong lappy. Ang aking peasnorl technician is pretty much what [who?] I need to take care of every little problem I have with my lappy….buti na lang kasi kung hindi I’ll be running [literally kasi I don’t drive] to the technician….Enjoy the weekend Ate Beng!J

  4. Tyler Hamilton’s book goes into this – definitely bonuses tied to performance in race. It’s an eye opening book. Cancellera is my favorite rider – but I think he dabbled in doping…. just like the ret.

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