2012 Report card: The Lampre-ISD team had arguably its worst season since the Italian company first sponsored a cycling team back in 1991.
Despite riders of the calibre of Damiano Cunego, Michele Scarponi, Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ullisi on the team's roster, the standout pink and blue jersey only hit the line first seven times in 2012.
Lampre-ISD is one of the leading WorldTour teams yet the seven victories were all in minor races, with only Adriano Malori offering the team some time in the global spotlight thanks to wearing the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia for a day. The team did rack up 19 second places – two at the Tour de France and three at the Giro d'Italia, but the numbers did not add up for Lampre-ISD in 2012. Team Sky and Omega Pharma-Quick Step both won 50 this year, indicating that Lampre-ISD seriously under performed.
Lampre-ISD's season was mired by links to doping investigations as much as it was by poor results. Many of the team's riders and staff have been caught up in the Mantova police investigation, while Michele Scarponi has been suspended for three months for working with Dr. Michele Ferrari.
The Mantova case has dragged on since phone taps in 2008 and 2009 revealed that riders were obliged to travel to a tiny pharmacy outside Mantova owned by Guido Nigrelli to undergo tests and pick up medical supplies. The team and Nigrelli have always claimed their innocence and insist that the medicines were all legal but the police suspect otherwise and have a pile of evidence. Sadly the trial has still yet to begin in earnest, making it impossible for everyone to either clear their name or be condemned for their crimes.
Alessandro Petacchi was not at the team at the time. His results have been hit by old age, a lack of speed and no dedicated lead out train. 'Peta' used to guarantee a double-digit number of victories a year but the Italian sprinter will be 39 on January 3 and has lost the long finishing surge that helped him win so much in the last decade.
He won three stages at the Bayern-Rundfahrt in May instead of riding the Giro d'Italia, but that was as good as it got. He was second behind Andre Greipel on stage four of the Tour de France in Rouen and second to Marco Haller (Katusha) on stage four of the Tour of Beijing at the end of the season. He has signed up for another year with Lampre but it will surely be his last.
Michele Scarponi was given the moniker of the 'sad-faced clown' by a German newspaper before this year's Giro d'Italia but the Italian's happy go lucky approach to racing resulted in a more comical than successful season. He collected the pink jersey as official winner of the 2011 Giro d'Italia following the disqualification of Alberto Contador but was nowhere near his best in 2012, finishing a distant fourth behind Ryder Hesjedal. He was only 24th in the Tour de France and then became embroiled in the Dr. Ferrari investigation, when USADA published embarrassing testimony of his tests and mysterious chats in Dr. Ferrari's camper van.
His three-month ban ends on January 1 but further details of his links to Dr. Ferrari may emerge when the Padua police investigation into Dr. Ferrari is completed.
Damiani Cunego used to be known as the 'Little Prince' of Lampre-ISD, a nickname given to him by an Italian journalist and inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famous book and Cunego's prodigious results. The 2004 Giro d'Italia winner took a stage at the Giro del Trentino and finished second overall in 2012. But that was it for 2012.
Cunego has shown his class in the Classics in more recent times but is now 31 and his best form may never return. He has moved from the hills above Verona to Lugano to make a new start for 2013. He has confirmed he will ride the Tour de France in and hopes to lead the Italian team at the hilly world championships in Florence.
Other Lampre-ISD stalwarts also underperformed in 2012. Australia climber Matt Lloyd was second in the Australia national championships but virtually disappeared from the results after that. Diego Ullisi won two stages at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and won the GP Industria e Commercio Artigianato Carnaghese but his development as the next great Tuscan classics rider seems to have stuttered to a halt. Malori saved Lampre-ISD's Giro d'Italia and he won the Italian time trial title but more was expected from the powerful rider from Parma.
Merida's arrival sparks a slow revolution
Gazzetta dello Sport reported that some big-name riders in the team wrote a formal letter of complaint against senior directeur sportif Roberto Damiani. The Italian has been let go by the team for 2013, with Saronni hiring former classics star Michele Bartoli as team coach. The riders will now visit his training centre in Lucca for tests and advice, with Bartoli also expected to sit in the passenger seat at major races but it is difficult to see who will keep a tight reign on the riders, and push them for results.
Saronni was forced to balance the need for WorldTour points with a serious overhaul of the team for 2013. He has signed Filippo Pozzato with a rich three-year deal and also secured the services of reckless sprinter Roberto Ferrari and Colombian climber Jose Serpa. It will be interesting to see how all three fit in with Petacchi, Cunego and Scarponi in 2013.
Danilo Hondo has left for RadioShack, while Marco Marzano and Daniele Righi have retired to take up staff positions, with a rash of young and possible talented riders filling the rest of the roster.
Former Giro d'Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan has been brought in as a senior adviser, with the aim of help boost the team's communications and the team's importance on the global stage, while arguably much more important, Lampre have applied to be part of the MPCC - the Movement for Credible Cycling.
What to expect in 2013: The arrival of second sponsor and bike sponsor Merida is far more significant than has so far been revealed. Saronni hinted to Cyclingnews that the team will change further for 2014, with 2013 likely an interim year of rebuilding. Saronni - if he survives his involvement in the Mantova investigation - has a lot of work to do and Merida may need a lot of patience to see the consequences of any change.
It is difficult to see how Zomegnan's arrival can directly help boost Lampre's results but perhaps Pozzato could finally have a perfect season and Ferrari could win some big-time sprints instead of bringing down half the peloton.
Best signing: With so few major changes, the arrival of Ferrari is perhaps more interesting than that of Pozzato. Ferrari will debut at the Tour Down Under and so we will quickly see how fares against Andre Greipel and the fast finishing Australians. It could be an explosive start to the season.
Biggest loss: It is not clear why Danilo Hondo left Petacchi's side to join RadioShack but Petacchi will miss the veteran German as his leadout man and bodyguard. Hondo's track skills would surely have helped Ferrari but he will have to fend for himself in the final kilometres.
Man to watch: Filippo Pozzato: Not everyone loves Pippo's exploits and playboy lifestyle but he will be Lampre-Merida's team leader for the cobbled classics and will probably have the legs to at least take on Tom Boonen in Belgium. He is still convinced he can win the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and Michele Bartoli's help could be the bit of magic that finally makes the difference.