Alessandro Ballan has claimed he underwent ozone treatment for Cytomegalovirus and not blood transfusions to improve his performance in races in 2009.
Ballan risks a two-year ban after anti-doping investigators of the Italian Olympic Committee recommended the suspension after studying evidence from the Lampre-Mantova doping investigation. The Italian police investigation is based around the activities of pharmacist Guido Nigrelli, with 28 riders and staff, mostly from the Lampre team, finally set to go on trial on December 10.
Ballan became world champion in 2008, when riding for Lampre. He was diagnosed with the Cytomegalovirus virus in March and missed the Classics and the Giro d’Italia, returning to action in June in time to ride the Tour de France. He then won the Tour of Poland in August and signed with the BMC team for the 2010 season.
He claims he underwent ozone treatment to speed up his recovery from Cytomegalovirus.
“What can I say? Who knows if we’ll finally get to know the truth after three years? I’m optimistic because I’ve got all the medical records that certify why I had to undergo ozone therapy and not, as someone believes, to undergo blood transfusions,” Ballan told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I had the Cytomegalovirus; I’d been in hospital and was suspended by the team. I had the rainbow jersey, wanted to ride the Giro d’Italia and they told me that the treatment would have helped me recover more quickly. I did an infinite number of controls and my biological passport speaks clearly. Do you think it’s right that I’ve been massacred because of this?”
There are contrasting medical opinions about the effectiveness of ozone therapy and different way of undergoing the treatment. Some include taking out blood, treating it with ozone and then re-injecting it. However the WADA code prohibits any form of blood transfusions.
Doubts also remain about if the Lampre team doctor and the UCI knew about and approved Ballan’s ozone treatment.
According to reports in Italy, Ballan is heavily implicated in the Mantova investigation due to a series of telephone conversations captured by Italian police. In one of these, Nigrelli is alleged to have told Daniele Pietropolli: “Ballan wouldn’t have emerged as a rider without the chemistry.”
BMC backs Ballan
The BMC team initially suspended Ballan when reports of his involvement in the Mantova investigation emerged but has stood by him ever since. Following the request for a two-year ban, the team again decided not to remove him from active service.
“The BMC Racing Team is aware of, and will continue to monitor, CONI's legal proceedings involving Alessandro Ballan. Prior to a decision by the relevant authorities, the team will rely upon internal policies to determine the status of Ballan. At this time, no decision to remove him from active status has been made.”
“As has been previously stated, the charges stem from a time period prior to Ballan's involvement with the BMC Racing Team. Out of respect for the athlete and for due process, the BMC Racing Team will not make specific comments about the case in the absence of new facts or significant announcements by the court.
“The BMC Racing Team is committed to a strict anti-doping philosophy and clean sport.”
Ballan is expected to face a disciplinary hearing in Rome the next two months. He was involved in a high-speed training crash last December and spent most of the 2013 season recovering from his injuries.