Alessandro Ballan met with the Italian Olympic Committee’s (CONI) anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri on Monday afternoon to discuss his implication in the Mantova-based doping investigation centred on the activities of pharmacist Guido Nigrelli.
The BMC rider was questioned for two hours at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, and has been granted until the end of July to present a defence brief to CONI.
On leaving the hearing, the Italian was asked if he was at peace with his conscience. “I can only say that I have passed all the anti-doping controls that I have undertaken,” Ballan said, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.
It is understood that Torri’s questioning was focused primarily on allegations that Ballan had undergone autologous blood transfusions in 2009 when he rode for Lampre, as well as on a series of intercepted telephone calls between Ballan and Nigrelli from that year, in which they reportedly discussed doping practices.
The transcripts of the calls were included in Mantova prosecutor Antonino Condorelli’s final report into his investigation, and excerpts were published in the Italian media in May.
Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Ballan’s defence may attempt to claim that his conversations with Nigrelli concerned the treatment of an illness rather than the discussion of doping techniques. His legal team of Fabio Pavone and Federico Cecconi is understood to be preparing a report to demonstrate the stability of their client’s blood values during the period in which he was alleged to have undergone a blood transfusion.
“The defence brief will be ready in fifteen days,” Cecconi said.
Ballan has twice been suspended and reactivated by his BMC team during the Mantova investigation. He was most recently withheld from racing ahead of the Giro d’Italia, but permitted to return to action shortly after the race had finished.
“My team manager received the same judicial papers that I did and on the basis of those, he decided that I can race,” Ballan said. “Certainly, until the investigation closes, I will really struggle to train and race serenely.”
When BMC reactivated Ballan and his teammate Mauro Santambrogio in May, team manager Jim Ochowicz claimed that the team had “never been notified by any authorities regarding these alleged actions and conversations.” He also told Cyclingnews that there had been "no contradictions" in his team's handling of the matter.
The BMC team was troubled by a separate doping storm on the eve of the Tour de France, when part-time soigneur Sven Schoutteten was arrested and then conditionally released by Belgian police. He was questioned about his connection with a package containing 195 phials of EPO that was discovered at Liège airport in 2009.
Schoutteten most recently worked for BMC at the Giro della Toscana on June 19 of this year.