There wasn’t a lot by the use of pomp or ceremony, however the event was marked all the identical. Shortly earlier than the Veneto Basic bought underway on Sunday morning, Davide Rebellin was ushered right into a spot a few metres forward of the remainder of the peloton and he stood there for a minute or so carrying an uneasy smile. The shyness of earlier years could not possess him, but it surely by no means actually left him.
The dance music blaring over the general public handle system was finally turned down a notch or so, and the speaker knowledgeable the sparse crowds on Treviso’s Piazza Matteotti that this may be the final race of Rebellin’s 30-year profession as an expert bicycle owner.
A smattering of applause broke out on the roadside for the retiring native rider and rippled gently by the bunch, although it wasn’t clear if all of the younger males lining up behind Rebellin had even heard the speaker’s transient invocation.
Solely 20 of the 112-strong peloton had even been born when Rebellin made his skilled debut on the GP Camaiore within the faraway summer season of 1992. Most received’t have seen his Basic wins within the distant noughties. Many received’t even keep in mind the autumn that adopted his optimistic check for CERA on the 2008 Olympics.
But, at 51 years of age, he was in some way nonetheless there.
A photographer drew in to seize the second, as Rebellin stood alone, on the brink of the peloton however not fairly part of it. The applause petered out, and the speaker turned her consideration in the direction of counting down excitedly to the beginning of the race. On zero, the bunch moved off gingerly, and Rebellin pale discreetly again into it.
For a lot of the previous decade, Rebellin has been racing for groups on shoestring budgets in occasions nestled close to the bottom of the skilled biking pyramid. Every so often, he would trace that the subsequent season is likely to be his final, however come the flip of the yr, he would invariably be pictured in one more new equipment, selling the wares of one other obscure sponsor from Italy, Croatia and Kuwait, prepared for one more marketing campaign that may take him alongside roads each identified and unknown.
The query is clear. Why do it? Why preserve racing previous your fiftieth birthday for an virtually derisory wage?
The reply is clear, too, and Rebellin doesn’t attempt to fake in any other case. Not like Alejandro Valverde, one other latest retiree whose profession was bifurcated by a doping ban, point out of the scarlet letter is much from verboten.
Certainly, when Rebellin picks up the cellphone on the night earlier than his last race, he swiftly brings it up himself. At occasions, Valverde and his acolytes appear virtually to fake his suspension for blood doping by no means occurred. For Rebellin, against this, the ban informs all the pieces that has occurred to him since.
“I stored on racing for thus a few years partly due to that ban that I had from the Olympic Video games, the place I used to be out for 2 years,” Rebellin tells Cyclingnews. “I needed to return again, and I hoped to race for a giant staff and do the Classics, and perhaps finish my profession by successful one other huge race like Flèche or Liège.
“However after my suspension, I had a number of doorways closed in my face by groups. I couldn’t get again into a giant staff and that was perhaps additionally why I prolonged my profession. I wasn’t capable of exit in a giant staff, however I stored on going.”
When Rebellin took silver behind Samuel Sanchez – himself banned for doping virtually a decade later – within the highway race on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he billed it as “a medal for clear biking”. It was a daring declare to make, preposterous even, not least as a result of his Gerolsteiner staff was about to implode amid a collection of doping circumstances. That summer season, a collection of riders from Italy and elsewhere had been snared by a brand new check for CERA, and rumours persevered that many extra samples had been deemed to be suspect.
The next Spring, simply days after Rebellin had received Flèche Wallonne for the third time, whispers started to amplify in regards to the reanalysis of samples from Beijing. Names had been circulating. One particularly. Even earlier than the information was formally confirmed by the Italian Olympic Committee, all people already knew. Rebellin had examined optimistic for CERA, like his Gerolsteiner teammate Stefan Schumacher.
Reasonably than confess, Rebellin denied all wrongdoing, a stance from which he has by no means deviated. A two-year ban was handed down and he was later stripped of his silver medal, which was handed on to Fabian Cancellara at a ceremony in Switzerland in December 2010, with Alexander Kolobnev inheriting bronze. All of the whereas, Rebellin was serving out his suspension, nonetheless coaching every day, labouring beneath the phantasm that it would but be overturned.
“I used to be incredulous. For a very long time, I couldn’t consider this was taking place,” Rebellin says of the second he needed to pack up his medal and ship it again to the IOC to be assigned to Cancellara. “I at all times thought an error had been made and I at all times stored coaching as if I’d be capable to begin once more the subsequent day.”
He would later keep away from a felony prosecution for doping in Italy, however the sporting verdict was each clear and binding.
“I used to be cleared by the Italian justice system, however I didn’t get the Olympic medal again,” Rebellin says. “However for me, it’s like I nonetheless have it. Even when I don’t have it bodily, I really feel prefer it’s nonetheless mine.”
The category of ’92
The Olympics had been already part of Rebellin’s origin story. Forward of Barcelona 1992, when biking occasions had been nonetheless reserved for amateurs, the Italian federation positioned a moratorium on its younger riders turning skilled till after the Video games. When Rebellin made his delayed skilled debut with GB-MG on the GP Camaiore that August, Marco Pantani was a fellow neophyte within the gruppo.
Italian biking’s Class of ’92 would additionally embrace Michele Bartoli, Francesco Casagrande and the Olympic champion Fabio Casartelli, and Rebellin initially struggled to maintain tempo along with his contemporaries. “In comparison with the others, I had some difficulties getting outcomes,” Rebellin says. “Possibly it was a bit due to my character: I used to be very timid and shy, and I struggled to search out the appropriate feeling with the staff.”
The breakout efficiency got here with Polti on the 1996 Giro d’Italia, the place Rebellin received atop Monte Sirino and wore pink for six days en path to sixth general in Milan. seventh place on the Vuelta a España urged a Grand Tour man within the making, prompting Marc Madiot to signal Rebellin to guide his nascent La Française des Jeux squad’s Tour de France problem. The union was an sad one.
“On the Tour, I used to be ending mountain levels with the sprinters, and from there, the connection with Madiot broke down a bit,” Rebellin says. “You recognize Madiot, he’s a bit impulsive, and I’ve bought a unique character…”
Wins on the Clásica San Sebastian and GP Zurich instantly after that Tour prompted Rebellin to divert his consideration in the direction of the Ardennes Classics and brief stage races, and he would carve out a putting palmarès by his second stint at Polti and later spells at Liquigas and Gerolsteiner.
The zenith got here in April 2004, when he received Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège within the area of every week, incomes the moniker ‘Trebellin’. But even then, there was a way that Rebellin sat considerably askew amid the furnishings of Italian biking. His understated model meant he had already been routinely overshadowed by the period’s field workplace stars, and that very same introverted nature maybe additionally prevented him from asserting himself within the nationwide staff, the place first Bartoli and later Paolo Bettini served as extra apparent focal factors.
Beforehand omitted from the Sydney Olympics in favour of a jaded Pantani, Rebellin was once more unnoticed when Bettini took gold in Athens in 2004. It was already clear he can be surplus to nationwide coach Franco Ballerini’s necessities for that yr’s Worlds, which prompted Rebellin to take the intense measure of searching for Argentinean citizenship simply to compete on house roads in Verona, a stone’s throw from his birthplace of San Bonifacio.
Two weeks earlier than the Worlds, Rebellin went to Buenos Aires to finish the paperwork, even holding a press convention for the native press, however the software wasn’t processed in time and the UCI by no means signed off on the swap. As soon as once more, he was left kicking his heels on the sidelines. His face by no means fairly appeared to suit, not even at his house Worlds.
“Diadora had already made up an Argentinean equipment for me to put on at these Worlds,” Rebellin says. “We waited and waited, however the passport by no means got here, and I couldn’t trip.”
By the point of Rebellin’s Olympic silver medal in 2008, bridges with the squadra azzurra had been mended and the Argentinean affair lengthy forgotten. In his late 30s, at an age when most contemporaries had already exited the stage, he in some way appeared to be nonetheless on an upward trajectory. After Beijing and the following collapse of Gerolsteiner, he dropped down a division to hitch Androni however merely stored on successful, seemingly unaware of the sword of Damocles dangling above him from the earlier summer season.
It couldn’t final. In April 2009, barely every week after overwhelming Andy Schleck on the Mur de Huy to win Flèche, information of Rebellin’s optimistic check in China lastly broke. His denials, at all times destined to be met with derision, misplaced much more credibility when video footage from 2001 confirming his hyperlinks to the banned physician Enrico Lazzaro entered the general public area across the similar time.
Rebellin had fouled up and the shake-up that arrived wasn’t restricted to his doping suspension. His spouse and agent, Selina Martinello, served as his spokesperson throughout these fraught early weeks within the eye of the storm, however the couple would divorce earlier than his ban had run its course.
His tax affairs additionally got here beneath scrutiny, with the Italian authorities suspecting Rebellin was spending reasonably extra time in Padova than he was in his official residence in Monaco. The whole lot appeared to be crumbling directly. His reflex response to the disaster was to maintain coaching as if nothing had occurred, however he acknowledges that the interval modified him. How might it not?
“It was a tough second: I additionally separated from my ex-wife, and that affected issues too,” he says. “However I needed to react to the scenario as a person reasonably than as a bicycle owner. I attempted to alter my persona a bit, as a result of I was much more closed, I didn’t actually share my emotions. Now I used to be not fixated solely on the bike, it opened me up extra to life typically. Lets say this even strengthened me as a person.”
The wilderness years
Rebellin would finally keep away from a conviction for tax evasion, and he married his second spouse, Fanfan, in 2014, however his biking life was not the place he had left it. Whereas fellow convicted dopers like Ivan Basso, Danilo Di Luca and Riccardo Riccò had all discovered houses on WorldTour groups, there was no extra room on the inn when Rebellin’s ban expired in early 2011.
It hardly helped that Rebellin was by then on the cusp of center age, and he settled for a comeback at Continental stage with Miche. Despite the fact that he received that yr’s Tre Valli Varesine every week previous his fortieth birthday, no top-flight staff would contact him. He made it so far as Professional Continental stage with CCC in 2013, however there have been persistent murmurs that the Polish staff’s Giro wildcard invitation was contingent on leaving Rebellin at house. He might come that far, however no additional.
“Above all, I hoped to be readmitted, to search out the door nonetheless open, however that wasn’t the case, be it from some organisers or some staff managers,” he says. “All of them knew my worth as an athlete, however I had this factor from the Olympics that closed the doorways a bit. However I wouldn’t know how one can clarify it.”
Rebellin clearly sabotaged his personal hopes at redemption, in fact, along with his steadfast refusal to admit to any wrongdoing or to make even the mildest present of repentance, which contrasted with Basso’s very public, although clearly incomplete, admission of guilt after Operación Puerto.
The truth that Rebellin was the primary – and nonetheless solely – Italian athlete to be stripped of a medal on the Olympics was one other impediment. Maybe an instance needed to be made. He says now that he would “prefer to be remembered because the rider who received Classics”, however he is aware of that the fall-out from Beijing defines his profession above all else.
After CCC, Rebellin slipped right down to Continental stage once more, first with the Kuwait-Cartucho staff, then with Meridiana-Kamen, and eventually with the Padova-based Work Service squad. Whereas he was racing in Iran and Indonesia, his former friends had been by now managing groups or pontificating on tv protection.
That type of double commonplace proved an excessive amount of for Floyd Landis when he was locked out of the highest stage, and he did the game some service along with his denunciation of Lance Armstrong in 2010. Rebellin, against this, quietly insists that he by no means thought-about lashing out on the system that had rejected him.
“No, not likely. Except for not wanting to wreck the groups I used to be using on, it’s not in my character to be like that,” Rebellin says. “I want to look forward as an alternative of staying there driving myself mad enthusiastic about the previous. I most well-liked to look forward and above all, present my worth with my outcomes.”
And so, reasonably than tear the home down, Rebellin continued to loiter exterior, often urgent his face in opposition to the glass however by no means once more crossing the brink. Others had been allowed again inside after a spell in Purgatory, even with out full confessions or contrition. Rebellin, in the meantime, was consigned to Limbo, even when, for a time, he was in denial about that too.
“I at all times hoped to return again to the World Tour, not less than till I left CCC,” says Rebellin, who received the Giro dell’Emilia in 2014 and the Coppa Agostoni a yr later on the age of 44.
But despite the fact that Rebellin was persona non grata on the high desk, biking stored placing meals on his plate, albeit in additional meagre parts. His final victory got here in Tabriz on the 2017 Tour of Iran, however he stored going for 5 extra years – thanks, he says, to the lighter calendar of racing.
“Even when I used to be on very small – and, in a sure sense, humiliating – groups, they did all the pieces with a number of coronary heart, and that was lovely,” he says. “They usually introduced me to locations I’d by no means have visited, like Iran and Africa. That was enjoyable.”
The ultimate pedal strokes
Even now, in his retirement in Monaco, Rebellin’s earnings will nonetheless come from biking, by his collaboration with Dynatek bikes and his function main amateurs on coaching camps. He additionally speaks vaguely of “perhaps following some younger riders”, and he’ll preserve racing in gravel occasions subsequent season.
Certainly, simply final week, Rebellin lined out within the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships. It was his first time to trip in an Italian jersey since he positioned fourth on the Varese Worlds in 2008 simply weeks after Beijing, although he downplays its significance. “It’s not like placing on the maglia azzurra for a Worlds highway race,” he says. “I wasn’t chosen by the nationwide staff, I certified for the Worlds myself within the earlier race. However to be able to take part, I needed to put on a jersey with ‘Italia’ written on it.”
On the Veneto Basic, Rebellin wore a Work Service jersey with a design that appeared to echo that of the notorious Gerolsteiner staff. He survived within the entrance group till deep into the race, finally dropping floor on the final time up La Tisa and rolling into Bassano del Grappa simply over 4 minutes down in thirtieth place.
“I wasn’t on the identical stage as the very best, in fact, however I used to be nonetheless good,” Rebellin stated on crossing the road.
After the low-key acknowledgement on the beginning line, the veteran would obtain a extra formal send-off earlier than the multitudes on the end. Rebellin was feted on the rostrum earlier than his house crowd, and even handed a microphone to difficulty just a few phrases of thanks as he took his depart.
Time has a behavior of softening a person’s picture. Rebellin can’t erase his doping historical past, however within the final years of his profession, his ongoing presence within the bunch started to be seen with extra curiosity or puzzlement than with disdain: “I didn’t preserve going till 51 to set some type of report. I did it as a result of I felt like doing it. However now I believe the appropriate second has come to cease.”
Simply earlier than making his method in the direction of the rostrum on Sunday afternoon, in the meantime, Rebellin briefly discovered himself just some yards from the person who was awarded that silver medal from Beijing. As he rolled to a halt on one aspect of the road, Fabian Cancellara stood on the opposite, current within the Veneto as proprietor of the formidable Tudor staff and visitor of honour at yesterday’s Gran Fondo.
The second appeared to move unnoticed by each males. Rebellin went a method and Cancellara the opposite.