Ballan and Cunego amongst those being investigated in Italian doping inquiry
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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ballan and Cunego amongst those being investigated in Italian doping inquiry

by Conal Andrews at 8:17 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 

Damiano CunegoYesterday La Gazzetta Dello Sport broke the news that a major anti-doping investigation is taking place in the town of Mariana Mantovana in Northern Italy. The paper has continued publishing information on the case this morning, saying that current and former riders with the Lampre squad, as well as team officials, are amongst those being scrutinised for their links with the coach Guido Nigrelli.

According to the highly respected paper, amongst those being investigated are former world champion Alessandro Ballan and past Giro d’Italia victor Damiano Cunego, as well as Francesco Gavazzi, Mauro Santambrogio plus nine others. Ballan and Santambrogio now race with the BMC team, while Cunego remains one of the main leaders of Lampre.

The team’s general manager Giuseppe Saronni plus the sports directors Maurizio Piovani and Fabrizio Bontempi are also set to face questioning.

“I have received notification of a request to extend the preliminary investigation by six months,” said Ballan, confirming that he is one of those involved. “I have put everything in the hands of my lawyer.”

La Gazetta says that the investigation is led by Antonino Condorelli plus the other prosectors of Mantua, and has been ongoing for almost two years.

The period being scrutinised is 1 January 2008 to July 31, 2009, although some of the investigations go beyond this timeframe. The police of Brescia are also involved in the investigation, which includes athletes from other sports. Yesterday’s estimate of 54 individuals has been revised to 35.

Team denies all wrongdoing:

Saronni has insisted that Lampre has not done anything wrong. “None of our team has been behaving incorrectly,” said Saronni. “Nigrelli has never been our employee. Lampre pays Sergio Gelati as an athletic trainer. I’d put my hand in the fire for him.”

Nigrelli was investigated in Brescia in 2001 for the improper practice of medicine, and was also amongst the 52 suspects pinpointed in the Giro d’Italia raids that same year.

The team also issued a denial via a statement yesterday, which read: “The activity of the Lampre-Farnese Vini team has been always based upon the maximum respect of the rules of honesty, fairness in sport and of anti-doping policy. The name of General Manager Giuseppe Saronni has been linked by the media to an athletic trainer that "has often worked with teams" managed by Saronni, almost suggesting a systematic use of forbidden methods.

“[The team] rejects every connection with these people if these connections have the purpose of damaging the team’s image. It reserves the right to take legal action in order to protect its name and image.”

Lampre riders Alessandro Petacchi and Lorenzo Bernucci had their houses searched in recent days. Nothing was found in Petacchi’s residence, but Bernucci is facing a possible life ban from the sport after several substances were discovered, including the blood thinner Albumine plus a stimulant called Sibutramine. The rider tested positive for the latter in 2007 and faced a ban then.

The UCI announced last week that the Lampre team had finally been granted registration as a ProTour squad, following a long delay. The governing body has been pushing hard for teams to have a zero-doping policy and so it remains to be seen if this investigation will have long-term repercussions for that licence.

 

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