As well as a self-confessed cycling-mad guy, Giorgio Squinzi is the man behind Mapei's demise, the former team boss who, dissatisfied with the way things are going in cycling, with "things" meaning the doping issue and the fight against it, made the decision to stop sponsoring the strongest professional team, and moved out of the sport.
He was not the first to quit cycling: the likes of Liquigas and Polti did some time before, and, even if in a more discreet way, more or less because of the same reasons.
But Squinzi's decision had a major, unprecedented impact. First of all as it's not such common thing to see the man heading the best squad in pro cycling, a bunch of accomplished riders and many promising youngsters, leave the sport at the end of an extremely successful season, marked by several victories here and there, and the undisputed leadership in the UCI Rankings reserved to Trade Teams. And later because Mapei's demise provoked a kind of "earthquake" inside the peloton, leaving plenty of riders without a contract for next year (see Luca Scinto's case, link at the bottom of the page).
And Giorgio Squinzi is also the man who recently gave an interview to Flemish newspaper "Het Laatste Nieuws", telling a little more on the reasons why he walked out of cycling, and the current situation of the sport, even adding a few comments on some of his (past) team's riders. The belgian website "Velo-Club du Net" posted extracts from the interview.
As for his decision to stop his sponsorization, Squinzi said that "Circumstances forced me to make such a dramatic decision. The uncertainty over the future of cycling is way too big. The doping problem is getting bigger, and there's no real solution in sight". Quite a different attitude than Festina's, after the sponsor of the "main stars" of the 1998 TdF scandals somehow capitalized on the event and the consequent publicity they got (in other wards: they sold more watches).
Many think the turning point was the "Stefano Garzelli affair", the doping scandal involving the Mapei's rider in the last Giro d'Italia. After such a blow, no wonder that mr. Squinzi, an outspoken, but coeherent anti-doping "crusader", may have thought his battle was somehow lost and consequently decided it was time for him to leave. But when talking of the Garzelli story, Squinzi still mentions a plot against the team "The exclusion of Garzelli, who tested positive for a masking agent, wasn't a normal thing. At the start nothing was found. Later, as soon as he won a stage, a forbidden substance came out all of a sudden. That's bizarre".
Squinzi is not new to attacking the sport's governing bodied or making bold statements anyway: in the late 90s his declarations on the impossibility to get a Top spot in any Grand Tour without resorting to doping made the headlines and stirred up lots of polemics. Also earning him several enemies, in the Italian cycling environment in particular.
Many can still remember what happened in the 1999 Giro when, after the (so far) biggest scandal in Italian cycling broke out in Madonna di Campiglio, disappointed fans expressed their wrath to Squinzi and his team, by targeting Mapei riders (many of them were abused all through the following stage) and even team cars, damaged by (mostly Mercatone Uno's) upset fans, some of them even wishing to stop the race, although it actually didn't happen.
To understand the reasons of their anger, and what Mapeis were "gulty" of, one must remember how much the 1999 Tour of Italy was marked by a strong quarrel between the Squinzi crew and part of the peloton (headed by Mercatone Uno, at the time Italy's most popular squad) following Squinzi's outspoken attitude on doping, and the above mentioned statements in particular.
A stance shared by many Mapeis, who paid quite an high price for that, not just at being mistreated by fans, but also as their support of Squinzi's point of view didn't get a warm welcome by the Giro peloton. The likes of Figueras and (even more) Tafi, with the latter explicitly defending Squinzi, were reportedly isolated inside the bunch.
It may seem a paradox that one of Squinzi's "supporters" was Giuliano Figueras, a man who spent most of the 2002 season far from the races, as he was sanctioned after being involved in a bad doping affair. But this has nothing to do with Squinzi and Mapei, as it all happened when the Neapolitan rider was riding for another team.
Also Squinzi's "you can't place high on a Grand Tour without using banned usbstances" attitude may sound paradoxical, when you think such statements were made not a long time after a Mapei rider, Pavel Tonkov, hit the Giro podium more than once. But Squinzi tries to explain it: "I know Mapei has won Giros and Vueltas, but the last victory dates back to 1995. At the time I didn't know the situation well. The "real" Mapei came in 1999, the first year I assumed full responsibilities inside the team. When I started at Mapei, in 1993, I was quite innocent. It took a few years for me to learn, but I have learned a lot. I warned Hein Verbruggen. I informed him of the anomalies inside the cycling world".
Besides the doping plague, another topic of conversation was Squinzi's opinion on some Belgians recently racing for the Mapei outfit. Two of them in particular: Johan Museeuw and Tom Steels. Mapei's former boss spent kind words for both guys: "Johan is a true champion. We hoped him to end his career with us, but he opted for following his friend Lefevere, and I may understand him. As for Steels, I still believe in the man. I regret not being able to set up a leadout train similar to Cipo's. With such a help Tom would have won much more races.
Squinzi's and Mapei's outspoken attitudes on doping are well-known anyway (and besides enemies, earned him some praises too: I recall Nick White's words in one of his daries: "Full credit to Giorgio Squinzi at Mapei for pulling the pin on his sponsorship. It leaves a lot of good, honest riders in the wind, but it sends a message. I would rather there be no pro cycling than a pro circuit with drugs"). Such that someone mentioned them as the possible reasons of a plot to punish Mapei, a conspiration Squinzi and others talked of after the Garzelli scandal broke out.
But you may know further on Squinzi's point of view, by reading (again) an interview with him posted on the good ol' "
The Daily Peloton" a little more than 10 months ago, whose full text is below. So you may see how things changed (or perhaps didn't at all) in less than a year.
Many thanks to http://www.velo-club.net for Squinzi's interview.
From "The Daily Peloton", January 30, 2002
MAPEI'S BOSS SQUINZI COMMITTED TO FIGHTING DOPING (By Fabio)
Giorgio Squinzi, head of Mapei firm, was interviewed by "Gazzetta dello Sport" during his team's presentation, and said he wants to continue his battle for clean cycling, in spite of the troubles his attitude earned him in the past (and could earn him in the future). But everyone has to do his duty.
Mapei's boss Giorgio Squinzi has always been outspokenly committed in the fight against doping. He publicly spoke several times in favour of carrying out more frequent tests, he expressed his uneasiness at an environment still deeply marked, according to him, by the steady use of performance-enhancing substances.
He even took a pair of promising youngsters such as Filippo Pozzato (Squinzi said he has got "an extraordinary engine") and Swiss Fabian Cancellara ("The future Miguel Indurain", in Squinzi's words), all the way from the Junior category to Mapei's pro team, in order to let them avoid the U23 Category where, he reportedly said, "doping use is even worse than among the pros". He was one of the few cycling personalities that clearly expressed his support for the Carabinieri raids at the last Giro d'Italia.
And sometimes he was quoted as making even bolder statements (or, according to someone, going a little too far with his words); for instance in July 2000, when, during an interview with French sport newspaper "L'Equipe", he said that it's impossible to finish in the top five rankings of any major tour without blood doping.
Some English-speaking commentators, perhaps outraged by words putting the cleanness of cycling in doubts just while Armstrong was winning his second Tour de France, reported Squinzi's statements, but also added sarcastic commentaries such as "He didn't explain why two Mapei-riders (Andrea Noé and Pavel Tonkov) came in the top five of the Giro this year".
Neither the UCI nor the governing body of the Tour de France seemed to be particularly satisfied with Squinzi's interview. The International Cycling Union was also quoted as saying that "In order to protect the image and dignity of all parties and of every person involved in the world of cycling, the UCI strongly condemns Mr. Squinzi's attitude and intends to inform him of its profound dissatisfaction" .
The man's outspoken attitude caused some problems between his riders and part of the peloton even in Italy, anyway (do you remember the way Mapei's Andrea Tafi was treated by some participants in the 1999 Tour of Italy ? And how some of the team's cars were kicked and damaged by angry fans at the dramatical end of that edition of the Giro ?).
But nonetheless the head of Mapei company remains in cycling, and is as well-determined as usual to continue his battle, confirming his perspective in an interview he gave to "Gazzetta dello Sport" on Friday, during Mapei's official presentation at the Milan's Headquarters.
"I do believe in a clean cycling" Squinzi said "I want to, I have been wishing that for plenty of time. And mw way of acting has always been coherent; for instance when imposing fixed rules and strict commitments to all team members, or when betting on a group of young riders, that in the new season will part of the GS3 squad; a team with his own structures, although wearing the same jersey as Mapei's Division One Team. Sure I can't be the only one to believe in clean cycling. All parts of the cycling world should do their duty".
The quarrel between Squinzi and Cycling authorities wasn't limited to the 2000 Tour de France. About one year ago, indeed, Mapei's "head sponsor" said both the UCI and the Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) needed to have certain and unambiguous rules, that could be applied to everyone in the same way. Has anything changed since then, or is the situation as bad as in 2001 ?
"Actually something changed in the UCI, but not enough" Squinzi replied "as for Italy's FCI, I realized they haven't got total freedom of intervention, but their line of conduct in some recent affairs has been quite correct. For instance, I think their initiative aimed at banning from Italy's national team all riders involved in doping affairs is a step in the right direction. But changes and improvements are going too slow for this sport to regain credibility in a short time. On the opposite, some teams even abandoned after they saw their proposal of not signing any rider that had recent troubles with doping wasn't supported by anyone but us".
As for the medias, Squinzi said they could, and should, do more on order to fight the use of banned substances, for example "avoiding to depict riders that had troubles with doping in a certain competition as symbols of the race itself". I guess even the ones with minimal knowledge of Italian cycling may easily have a clue of what (and especially whom) Squinzi was talking about.
So which commitments should be taken, at international level, in order to improve the situation of this sport ? Squinzi said that it's first necessary to create a different mentality, and even strike hard when needed, in order to deter would-be cheaters from causing havoc for the sport in the future.
Striking hard. Just like the Carabinieri did in last year's Tour of Italy ? "Such raids don't make me happy, but if they are the only way to change things , they are welcomed".