The motor-doping accusations at the heart of Italy’s biggest bike race

Stefano Stagni won the Maratona dles Dolomites, slept for 10 hours, then woke up to a phone filled with abuse.

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“Italy, a country of envious people,” Stefano Stagni begins. “I’m not a fool to cheat on live TV.”

The Maratona dles Dolomites is “one of the biggest, most passionate, and most chaotic bike races on Earth,” according to the National Geographic. An epic route across seven mountain passes in the Dolomites, 9,000 lucky participants picked at random from 40,000 entrants, VIPs along the roadside and six hours of live broadcast, the longest of the year for national broadcaster Rai Sport.

After 138 kilometres and 4,230 meters of climbing, Stagni, a former volleyball player turned cyclist, crossed the line alone, first, after four and a half hours of racing.

He cried, ate, celebrated, and then went to sleep for 10 hours, the 27-year-old from the Emilia-Romagna city of Ferrara told Corriere Della Sera. He woke up to a phone so full with messages that the screen had frozen. A few of the messages were congratulatory. Most were insults. “I was stunned,” Stagni said.

While he slept the internet had come alive with conspiracies. His climbing times over the great Dolomites passes were incredible, only four minutes slower up the Passo Giau than Egan Bernal at the 2021 Giro d’Italia and three and a half minutes slower than Vincenzo Nibali at the 2016 Italian Grand Tour.

People accused him of using a motor in his bike and desecrating a sacred event after he chased back up to the leading group on the flat between Cernadoi and Giau, having been dropped previously, before going on to win the race. At one point in the clip taken from the live coverage, Stagni pushes in a random spot in his handlebars, a movement that adds fuel to the fire for the conspiracy theorists.

“If I watched as an external user the video circulating on the web and it was of you, I would say: yes, this guy cheated. But is not so,” Stagni responded to the Italian newspaper about the accusations he cheated. “Honestly I don’t know,” he continued of the movements of his hands on the handlebars. “It was an automatic, nervous hand gesture. But do you think I’d be so stupid as to turn on a motor live on Rai, a stone’s throw from the finish line?”

“It is true that on Colle Santa Lucia to get back into the group I did a crazy ride,” he said of his chase back on. “The other times are good but normal. On the Giau I spent 4 minutes longer than Nibali at the Giro, on the Falzarego the same time as in 2021.”

The Strava upload of his ride has been flagged as suspicious after 600 people reported irregularities, leading it to be automatically blocked. Stagni has contacted Strava to explain what has happened, and has also made his power file available for any sceptics to study.

A final twist in the tale, Stagni’s bike disappeared from the finish as he was being interviewed by Rai.

“In April I suffered a theft after a race,” Stagni explained as to why he quickly moved his bike away from the pandemonium of the finish. “The bike, which I had lost sight of in Corvara, has been secured. If the organizers had asked me, I would have had it examined.” 

Organisers say that from next year scanners and x-rays will be used to check all of the bikes in the race.

“Italy is the country where those who arrive 200th think that the 199 in front of him have cheated,” Stagni concluded. “But I have a clear conscience, I pedal to have fun.”