Last week Italian Matteo Rabottini tested positive for EPO (erythropoietin). Today, in a strange turn of events, so did both podium girls who were on stage with him to celebrate his stage win in the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
The Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) said that the two attractive Italian females have failed tests and the International Cycling Union (UCI), has suspended them from all podium girl activities pending a B sample analysis.
A report in Gazzetta dello Sport identified the two podium girls as Christina DiBonise (23) and Sophia Vermelli (21). Both deny the usage of the blood booster. “I like champagne, of course, I’m a podium girl and maybe at a party, I might take something but I’ve never had anything to do with EPO,” said DiBonise. “It must have been some tainted biscotti.”
For his part, Matteo Rabottini has been provisionally suspended and removed from the national squad for the upcoming Worlds Road Race championship. Neither DiBonise or Vermelli are allowed anywhere near a pro cycling event and are currently meeting with their lawyers to plan out a legal strategy.
While EPO usage has been in decline in the pro peloton, there are widespread fears that the performance enhancing drug is now finding favor with physically exhausted podium girls who work long hours during the three grand tours.
“I am not suppressed by this podium girl doping news,” said Aldo Vanucci, PR director for the Italian Federation. “These girls work from before sunrise to late into the night. It’s not just kissing the winners. They drive VIPs around, they work multiple events each day, they’re constantly in demand from sponsors and fans. The high heels are not comfortable.”
Where before a good nights sleep and several espresso drinks might keep pdoum girls going for three weeks straight, today’s grueling schedules force many girls to resort to other means. All too often, young, pretty and impressionable girls fall victim to bad advice and pressures for bosses to perform at the highest level.
“They are caught in a difficult situation. They must be on their feet for three weeks straight with a smile always on their face,” said Vanucci. “Their bodies begin to break down and they can’t go on and then one evening the boss called them to his hotel room and offers them something stronger. It is hard to say no.”
Italian psychologist Michele Maserati offers an additional perspective. “It is like the sad clown. These girls are beautiful on the outside but fragile and sad on the inside. They want to show the world, to perform with the best but then they take shortcuts. For me, it’s is a heartbreak to hear these stories.
Vermelli is adamant that she never took and EPO. “I have no idea how this drug got into my system. Perhaps I kissed a rider who had EPO in his system — I can’t explain anything just yet. I will fight to clear my name but the damage is already done. I will always be known as the podium girl doper,” said Vermelli.
Officials for the Tour de France, Girl d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana have promised to look into the issue of doping and podium girls. However, it may be some time before there are any changes in place to protect them. “We have worked so hard to rid the peloton of EPO. Perhaps we have overlooked the women who share the stage with the winners,” said ASO’s Christian LeRire.