Italian cyclists suspended for doping on eve of Giro d’Italia

Italians Stefano Pirazzi and Nicola Ruffoni were thrown out of the 100th Giro d'Italia on Thursday after the International Cycling Union (UCI) confirmed both had tested positive for a derivative of banned growth hormones.

Italian cyclists suspended for doping on eve of Giro d'Italia
Stefano Pirazzi crosses the finish line in a previous edition of the race. Photo: Luk Benies/AFP

Pirazzi and Ruffoni both ride for the all-Italian Bardiani team and face being “immediately sacked”, according to organizers, just hours after a glitzy pre-race presentation on the seafront at Alghero in Sardinia.

The Giro d'Italia, whose prize is the coveted pink jersey, starts in Alghero on Friday and ends in Milan on May 28th.

In accordance with UCI rules, both riders are now suspended facing further investigation. They tested positive during out-of-competition controls on April 25th and 26th respectively.

Pirazzi, 30, won the best climber's competition at the Giro in 2013 and won a stage to Vittorio Veneto in 2014.

Ruffoni, 26, is in his fourth year as a professional. According to UCI rules, Pirazzi and Ruffoni's positive tests could lead to the suspension of the entire Bardiani team for a period of 15-45 days.

Bardiani said they were “shocked” by the news, and confirmed they will sack the pair if a counter analysis confirms the initial results.

“We are absolutely shocked by this news,” team managers Bruno and Roberto Reverberi said in a statement.

“The riders are now no longer part of our team for the Giro d'Italia and have been suspended from all activity, in accordance with the UCI rules.

“We will await the results of future tests, in accordance with the anti-doping rules, but we reaffirm our intention to safeguard the values that have allowed our (team) project to develop in recent years.”

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Giro d’Italia 2020: The toughest stages of Italy’s legendary cycling race

Organizers on Thursday unveiled the route of the next Giro d'Italia. From volcanos to gruelling mountain ascents, here are the stages to watch out for.

Giro d'Italia 2020: The toughest stages of Italy's legendary cycling race
Riders approach Piancavallo in the Dolomites, which will also feature in the 2020 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Luk Benies/AFP

With seven uphill finishes and three individual time-trials, the 2020 Giro d'Italia will get underway in Budapest on May 9th with the riders finishing in front of Milan's iconic Duomo on May 31st.

READ ALSO: Ten awe-inspiring routes for cycling through Italy

After three stages in Hungary, the 3,579km race heads for Sicily, before crossing to the mainland and moving across the foot of Italy, up along the Adriatic coast, before hitting the Dolomites and the Alps in the gruelling final week.

Here's a look at five key stages out of 21 that could decide the pink jersey winner of the 103rd edition of the three-week race.

Stage 5: Enna – Mount Etna
Date: May 13th
Distance: 150 km
Difficulty: ****

Riding towards Etna in 2011. Photo: Luk Benies/AFP

The final day of three in Sicily sees the riders head from inland Enna east to the foot of the Mount Etna volcano, with a first-ever climb from Linguaglossa to Piano Provenzana over 18 km with average gradients of 7 percent, peaking at 10 percent in the finale.

Stage 15: Rivolto Air Base – Piancavallo
Date: May 24th
Distance: 183 km
Difficulty: ****

This mountain stage in the north-east gets underway in an Italian military Air Base near Udine, home to the Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team. It starts gently with 40 km of flat before a succession of climbs and descents to the foot of the final climb of Piancavallo in the Dolomites, with peaks of 14 percent.

Approaching Piancavallo in 2017. Photo: Luk Benies/AFP

Stage 17: Bassano Del Grappa – Madonna Di Campiglio
Date: May 27th
Distance:  202 km
Difficulty: *****

The pink jersey contenders will start to flex their muscles with three summit finishes in the final five days. This unrelenting mountain stage has a succession of four climbs, including Forcella Valbona and Monte Bondone with gradients over 10 percent in the second part of the ascent. After clearing the Passo Durone, the peloton will eventually tackle the closing climb to the Alpine resort of Madonna di Campiglio.

Stage 18: Pinzolo – Laghi Di Cancano
Date: May 28th
Distance: 209 km
Difficulty: *****

Climbing the Stelvio in 2017. Photo: Luk Benies/AFP

A colossal Alpine stage with 5,400 m vertical altitude in total over four climbs. The route starts uphill on Passo Campo Carlo Magno. The highest point of this year's Giro is reached on the Stelvio in the Alps with riders facing a gruelling 2,758m climb.

Stage 20: Alba – Sestriere
Date: May 30th
Distance: 200 km
Difficulty: *****

The last chance for the title contenders comes on the penultimate day in an Alpine stage crossing over to France. Riders will pass Colle dell'Agnello, Col d'Izoard and Monginevro, before the final climb up to Sestriere.

The complete route for the 2020 Giro d'Italia. Image: Giro d'Italia/Twitter