Luigi Cecchini: "If media is creating a certain image of you you can't really fight it"

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01.07.2007/ For many riders Luigi Cecchini is the best trainer in cycling. But Cecchini also has a bad reputation after some of 'his' champions were involved in doping affairs. The Italian doctor doesn't give a lot of interviews but after UCI president Pat McQuaid advised riders not to work with him anymore he decided to speak with Dutch daily newspaper 'De telegraaf'.

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Thomas Dekker breaks his relation with Cecchini (picture: Cyclingheroes)

The big kitchen table in Cecchini's country house just outside Lucca (Tuscany, Italy), is the place were friends are always welcome to enjoy dinner. His sons, Azano and Stefano are regular visitors to this ritual and Thomas Dekker is accepted as a family member as well. It's this table where many riders had dinner and a lot of these riders are not only defending Cecchini in the typical 'omerta' style. They get really anry if Cecchini is being attacked. Jörg Jaksche told Cyclingheroes in February: "Cecchini and his family belong to the best people I have met in the cycling scene, he has nothing to do with doping, those who claim the opposite are lying! "

Luigi Cecchini is a charming man but his smile dissapeared as he told 'De Telegraaf': "Please say that Thomas will stop our cooperation." He is almost begging. Cecchini continued by saying: "Unfortunately it is bad for his image when he continues to work with me. I have a bad reputation. If media is creating a certain image of you you can't really fight it. The authorities investigated me three times. They even tapped my phone. But they found out quickly that I wasn't involved in doping affairs. If the UCI president places me under a damning light, then its over."

Cecchini says that Dekker is able to train on his own and that he has faith in Rabobank trainer Louis Delahaye. But he thinks Dekker should stay near the mountains. "If Thomas ever wants to become a major player in a grand tour he has to climb every day. That is a condition. Thomas will always stay a friend of the family. They can't take that away from us. He is one of the most social, talented and intelligent riders I ever worked with."

Cecchini will leave cycling with pain in his heart. He is still working with 5 other riders but he is waiting for their decision to stop working with him. His office, which is on the other side of the road is full of trophy's and pictures of riders with remarks like 'Grazie Cecco'. Bugno, Ballerini, Tchmile, Cipollini, Bartoli, Sörensen, Bettini, Riis, Hamburger, Casagrande, Petacchi, Basso, Ullrich, Cancellara and Cunego are his most important champions.

He calls it a privilige that he worked with good riders. In his opinion a good trainer is somebody who makes the least possible mistakes. "Cycling is not a professional sport yet. Look at football [European soccer], track and field and tennis, where everybody has his personal trainer.  Until five years ago in cycling the team manager did everything and nowadays most teams have one trainer for 30 riders. A trainer can work well with 10 riders maximum."

In the eighties Cecchini was one of the first trainer who worked with the SRM-system. By monitoring heartbeat, pedal frequency, power, watts and speed he got a very good picture of every training session. Because he was riding 30.000 kilometers himself every year he was able to translate his own experience to the SRM-system. Cecchini said: "I gathered  a lot of experience and information of top riders. I am in daily contact with riders and discuss their SRM print and personal memo's with them. Often I look half an hour at the information before I decide how the rider will train on the following day. Thereby its important that the rider knows what he is doing. Some call me a good psychologist. That's going too far. When a rider understands what he is doing, he will eventually be the best trainer."

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Thomas dekker: "Luigi was like a father for me" (picture: Cyclingheroes)

Together with Francesco Conconi and Michele Ferrari, Cecchini has brought cycling to a higher level. But those three names are also linked with doping affairs. Cecchini said: "Everywhere they call me a pupil of Conconi but I only know him from coventions for sports physians. I met him only once. I also was only once at the Ferrara university. Still my name is being linked with that university in the media. Why? I don't have a clue. I also wasn't in close contact with Ferrari. We worked together for one season with Ariostea. Our contact was dry and business related but with mutual respect."

Although he is a doctor, Cecchini decided to stop working as a doctor in 1996. Cecco says that from that moment on he only worked on training methods. A deliberate choice. In 1996 his pupil Bjarne Riis won the Tour de France. Riis admitted last month that he took epo during the 1996 Tour. By some media this has been seen as a smoking gun in the direction of Cecchini. In 1994 doping expert Sandro Donati mentioned his name and in a report about epo-use his name was mentioned by two of eleven witnesses. Checchini told 'De telegraaf': "There was an investigation against 20 sports doctors. My name appeared in the newspapers but I never heard anything from the authorities."

Four years later Italian police raided his hous in Lucca. In a pharmacy in Bologna, authorities found medical prescriptions of banned substances which were signed by Cecchini and Ferrari and others. Cecchini said: "The police searched everything but found nothing. I was never interrogated. The authorities stated that they filed the case. Still my picture was in the newspapers and they wrote that banned substances were found. I filed three complaints against journalists and received three times compensation. But I can't keep on fighting against everybody. I have a full time lawyer working for me to investigate all the lies about me. One day I will hit back."

Several media also mentioned his name in connection with 'Operacion Puerto'. Cecchini cannot deny that he knows Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. In 2001 Angel Luis Casero won the Vuelta Espana. Shortly after that there was a telephone call between Fuentes and Cecchini. He was asked to go to Madrid: 'to prepare that what he knows about'. Cecchini said: "At that time I was a team doctor with Ariostea and MG. I met Fuentes who was the team doctor of Kelme. In 2001 he asked me if I wanted to work with Casero because he wanted to work with the  SRM system. That was what I told Fuentes on the phone. It has been 3 years ago that I was in contact with Fuentes. His daughter was very ill and he contacted all doctors he knew to get the best treatment for her. I knew ongologists in Sienna and contacted them. Finally Fuentes decided to get his daughters surgery somewhere else. After that I never spoke with him again."

It hurts him that his name is being mentioned in connection with 'Operacion Puerto'. But ofcourse its eye-catching that 'his' riders Basso, Jaksche and others are involved in the Puerto affair. Cecchini said: "Fuentes has being watched for months. But if you read the dossier you won't find my name. Bit by bit I suffer big time from reading lies about me all the time."

That some of his riders were caught with performance enhancing drugs is not doing his reputation any good. "I am very dissapointed in these riders. But I don't feel quilty. I have to deal with grown-up individuals. If they do things behind my back, you can't blame me for that. I worked very well with Basso. I am convinced that he did not do any wrong things during the time he was trained by me. I saw Ullrich only 10 days a year. I don't know what he did the rest of the year. It hurts me when I see what happens at the moment. I am in a position where my name is wrongly linked in all kinds of cases. I cooperated in all investigations and the investigators never found anything. Unfortunately that doesn't count for the journalists."

As the journalists of 'De telegraaf' asked Cecchini to pose for a picture, Cecchini refuses:  "Some people are proud to be in the headlines. For me that is not important anymore. I just wanted to speak for Thomas because he should not become a victim of my reputation."

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