The father of Dario Frigo has opened his heart to La Gazzetta dello Sport about how doping changed his son into a ghostlike figure with whom he "has had no contact for five years."
In a sensational interview, Rosello Frigo revealed his fears about his son's wellbeing almost a week after the Fassa Bortolo rider and his wife were placed under formal investigation for "assisting the use of doping products and contraband". Frigo's wife Susanna was arrested last Monday after police near Albertville in the French Alps found vials suspected to contain EPO in the boot of her car. Frigo was rounded up the two days later, hours before he was due to compete in the second mountain stage of the Tour from Courchevel to Brianon.
Although Frigo is rumoured to be "in hiding" on the French Riviera - in accordance with the terms of his release on bail on Wednesday - his father doesn't know his exact whereabouts. "I don't know where he is, what he's doing, with who.But he's my son and he's in need at the moment. I don't know why our relationship broke down. The day after his wedding, after the reception, we went home. From that moment on, it was total darkness."
"Dario has a very weak, fragile character," Frigo senior continued. "I'm afraid. I fear that the worst is still to come because cycling is his life. Jimenez, Pantani, Vandenbroucke: these are the most tragic examples, but how many riders have problems with depression? Do you know about the side-effects of human growth hormone? I think that the drugs Dario took contributed significantly to changing him.
"Susanna, his wife, knew that Dario was taking this filth. Why did she help him? Why did she act as his accomplice? Because she's so impressionable that she should almost be locked up."
In contrast, Giancarlo Ferretti, the Fassa Bortolo team boss who branded Frigo a "villain" on his arrest last week, deserves disgust, not pity, said Rosello. Ferretti claimed on Wednesday that he had recently asked the UCI for authorisation to cut Frigo's salary "to try to distance him from the team." Authorisation which had been refused.
Rosello's reaction: "I'd like to speak to Giancarlo Ferretti, look him in the eyes. Just him and me or, if he prefers, with witnesses. I want to ask him if he knows the meaning of the words he used. My son has made a mistake, but he isn't a villain [.] If he knew something about Dario, why didn't he say so? Maybe my son was a useful guy to have around. Why did he re-sign him after he was caught in 2001? Did he have a debt of gratitude to repay because Dario had covered up for some bigger names?"
Earlier, Rosello had spoken of his own love of cycling, which Dario inherited - "the one regret in my life," according to Rosello. Passion quickly became an unhealthy obsession, this time inherited from a sport forever striving higher, faster and further. Rosello recalled one occasion when his exhausted son pulled out of the Coppa d'Oro amateur race and was forced by his team manager to climb the feared Roncola pass twice as punishment at 10 o' clock at night. "I have reason to believe that that was when he first discovered doping," Rosello Frigo told La Gazzetta.
Later, when Frigo turned pro' with the Mercatone Uno-Saeco team in 1995, he was all but ridiculed when he announced that his doctor was a local GP. "They said: 'Go where we tell you, because you can't fight a war with water pistols'," Rosello said.
"I said to him that I was firmly against doping. In reply, he said that us fans were very good at applauding the winner. The first time he went to the Tour, he begged me to bring him drugs. My wife was furious...
"When you start to dope, you buy yourself a one-way ticket[.] It's been proven that some of the most atrocious illness can be caused by doping. Write it in big letters: 'Boys, stop this! Appreciate the value of your health and stop playing at hurting yourselves'.
"Cycling was the first sport to introduce serious dope-testing but now the tests are a farce. You only have to look at the average speeds, how they climb mountains. No, ladies and gentlemen, it's impossible to go that fast. And how can you explain why these boys are always ill? One virus after another, glandular fevers.
He continued: "Dario has made mistakes and it's right that he should pay. But he isn't the only guilty party. I don't want to hear any more talk of riders who are whiter than white on the TV. It'd be better if they said nothing. I've had enough of hypocrisy. I used to watch races on the TV for news of my son. Now I won't even have that. I'll know nothing about him any more. I have a wonderful wife and daughter. Otherwise I'd take a pistol to my head out of shame. But everyone should be ashamed - everyone who's complicit with this system."
Signor Frigo launched one final plea: "Please help us to find Dario. We aren't monsters. We are honest, respectable people and we're not ignorant either. Dario, I want to speak to you. Alone, or if you want with your mum and your sister. Tell me where I went wrong."