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Italian amateur accused of motor doping after winning iconic gran fondo

“Italy, a country of envious people. I’m not a fool to cheat on live TV,” says 2022 Maratona dles Dolomites winner Stefano Stagni

Stefano Stagni slept for ten hours straight after winning the Maratona dles Dolomites, one of Italy’s iconic gran fondos, last month. When he woke up, Stagni found that his phone was inundated with messages and notifications, most of which were accusing the 27-year-old engineer of cheating his way to victory.

“On Sunday 3 July, I won the Marathon of the Dolomites, which for us cyclists is like New York for runners,” the Italian amateur cyclist told Corriere della Sera last week.

“Upon arrival I cried, ate, celebrated and then slept ten hours straight. When I woke up, my phone froze with too many messages: some were compliments, most of them insults. I was stunned.”

The Maratona dles Dolomites is arguably the mountainous Italian region’s signature ride for adventurous amateurs. Established in 1987, the brutal gran fondo takes in six passes over 2,000 metres, including the fearsome and legendary Passo Giau (9.9km at an average of 9.3 percent), with the ‘long route’ managing to rack up over 4,200 metres of climbing in 138km.

The event is popular for a reason: 9,000 riders take to the start every year, the equivalent of a whole county is closed to allow for the full gran fondo experience, and TV helicopters buzz around the course, providing live footage for the Italian national broadcaster Rai.

> Video: riding the Maratona dles Dolomites

In 2017,’s founder Dave Atkinson and’s then-editor Jon Woodhouse were lucky (or foolish) enough to take on the Maratona, with Dave describing all the pain and suffering on those famous Italian climbs as “worth it for the views, for the experience”… oh, and the local food and wine.

While Dave covered the 138km course in just under eight hours five years ago, Stagni, an engineer and former volleyball player who clocks up 20,000km a year when he gets off work, finished his ride in a staggering four hours and 27 minutes.

The sheer pace of Stagni’s ride – a minute and a half clear of his nearest competitor and seven minutes ahead of anyone beyond the podium – combined with a seemingly miraculous recovery on the flat roads between some of the climbs after being dropped, prompted more than a few eyebrows to be raised during and after the event.

His time on the day’s key climb, the Passo Giau, was jaw-droppingly impressive for an amateur: only four minutes slower than Egan Bernal at the 2021 Giro d’Italia, and three and a half minutes slower than Vincenzo Nibali in 2016.

The conspiracy theories only gathered pace after footage (below) emerged of Stagni pushing a seemingly random spot on his handlebars before accelerating on the steep climb to the finish. His bike was then swiftly removed from the finish area as he was being interviewed by Rai, adding more fuel to the sceptics’ fire.

Suspicions of motor doping in Italian amateur cycling certainly aren’t new. In 2019, two participants in a race in the Veneto region were accused by other entrants of using hidden motors in their bikes. The pair refused to have the bikes checked by the organisers and fled before Carabinieri officers arrived. 

In 2017, organisers of another amateur race in Lombardy said that they had found a motor hidden in the seatpost of a bike belonging to Alessandro Andreoli through thermal imaging, although he made off before a mechanic could undertake a physical check of it, claiming he had a wedding to attend.

> Riders suspected of motor doping flee police after race in Italy

With clouds hanging over his victory almost as soon as he had crossed the line, the Strava file of Stagni’s winning ride was then flagged as suspicious after 600 users reported irregularities, with one describing the performance as “unexplainable… without providing details from Silicon Valley”.

“I’m honest,” the 27-year-old responded after Corriere della Sera asked him about the plethora of accusations following his victory, “If I watched, as an external user, the video circulating on the web and it were of you, I would say: yes, this guy cheated. But is not so.”

When questioned about his unusual hand movements on the Mür dl Giat climb, he said: “Honestly I don’t know, it was an automatic, nervous hand gesture. But do you think I would be so stupid as to turn on a scooter 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 admits. “The other times are good but normal. On the Giau I took four minutes longer than Nibali on the Giro, on the Falzarego the same time as in 2021.”

He then described the Strava reports as the work “of haters, of envious colleagues. I wrote to Strava in vain to clarify my position. The original file is available to sceptics,” he says.

And the reason behind the disappearing bike? “In April, I suffered a theft after a race. 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.”

Stagni’s wish may come true next year. Following the maelstrom of bad publicity surrounding the event, the Maratona’s organisers have committed to using x-ray scanners to tackle suspected motor doping during the 2023 gran fondo.

However, Stagni – just like many of his professional counterparts when questioned about possible cheating – claims the whole affair boils down to one thing: jealousy.

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

Ryan joined in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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Carior | 1 year ago

I'm really confused about what that video is meant to show.

Yes, his hands are doing funny things for the shifts but that's because is levers are at a funny angle.  If what we are alleging is that the right thumb pushing the top of the hoods is something, is that not simply him pushing the third button on a Di2 lever, e.g. to change a garmin screen or something?

peted76 | 1 year ago
1 like

No evidence makes this a non-story.. however I think anyone who's seen a cycling documentary or two which features those big european gran fondo's, may be a bit more cynical. 

riggbeck | 1 year ago

The evidence of cheating seems a bit harsh, riding Passo Giau 4 mins slower than a pro is totally achievable for a well trained amateur. Especially when you consider on this ride Giau was relatively early on and good weather, Bernal rode it after many more miles and in winter conditions.

Xenophon2 | 1 year ago

Either there's evidence of fraud or there isn't.  Looking at the man and hearing about the 20k km/year he clocks, there's nothing that makes me think he can't be a very strong rider.  Up to the organisers to select participants bikes for testing and determine if something is off, not the job of armchair strava pundits.





Welsh boy | 1 year ago

So let me see if I have got this right.  He went out on a big group ride, possibly rode a motorised bike and everyone else who wasnt in a race either are complaining about being "beaten".  It sounds a lot like my mate complaining if I beat him in the sprint for the cafe on a club run.

Surreyrider replied to Welsh boy | 1 year ago

No. Gran fondos are races. 

rct replied to Surreyrider | 1 year ago

Yep, In Italy the front pen of GFs are a competitive class, with "fun" riders setting off behind, a bit like the London Marathon.

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