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BMC Racing fires Ballan following doping ban

By:
Barry Ryan
Published:
January 17, 2014, 17:12 GMT,
Updated:
January 17, 2014, 17:20 GMT
Edition:
First Edition Cycling News, Saturday, January 18, 2014
Alessandro Ballan (BMC) celebrates winning stage 7 at the 2012 Eneco Tour

Alessandro Ballan (BMC) celebrates winning stage 7 at the 2012 Eneco Tour

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Ochowicz declines to expand on statement

BMC Racing has announced that it has fired Alessandro Ballan following the Italian Olympic Committee’s decision to hand him a two-year suspension for blood doping.

Ballan’s suspension stems from the Mantova-based doping investigation centred around his former Lampre team. Phone taps from investigators revealed that Ballan had undergone a blood transfusion in the spring of 2009, his final season at the team before joining BMC.

Ballan’s claims that he had undergone ozone therapy to treat cytomegalovirus, rather than a performance-enhancing transfusion, did not convince CONI’s anti-doping panel at a hearing in Rome on Thursday, and his two-year ban was announced on Friday morning. BMC’s official response to Ballan’s ban arrived some nine hours later.

“The BMC Racing Team announced Friday that it is terminating the contract of Alessandro Ballan,” read the BMC statement. “Ballan received a two-year suspension from CONI Friday for charges in connection with his former team. In accordance with the BMC Racing Team's strict anti-doping policy, Ballan is no longer a member of the BMC Racing Team, said president/general manager Jim Ochowicz.”

Cyclingnews had contacted Ochowicz by telephone earlier in the day, but the BMC general manager said that he would not comment on the matter ahead of the release of the team’s official statement. “We just heard about it, I mean I’m in California and it’s 7 o’clock here. So I just read it on Cyclingnews and I heard the reports. We have a statement coming out shortly, so that will be our statement,” Ochowicz said.

Asked if he would be willing to field questions after the publication of BMC’s statement, Ochowicz said, “No. No, that’s our statement.”

Although the BMC statement is correct in pointing out that Ballan’s doping infraction took place prior to his time at the team, news of his implication in the Mantova inquiry first broke as early as April 2010, just months into his original contract with BMC.

BMC reacted on that occasion by withdrawing Ballan from racing for almost two months before reinstating him. Speaking to Cyclingnews in January 2011, Ballan suggested that the then-Pro Continental BMC team had withdrawn him from racing in order to safeguard its wildcard berths in ProTour races.

When Gazzetta dello Sport published a transcript ahead of the 2011 Giro d’Italia, which suggested that Ballan had undergone a blood transfusion in 2009, BMC responded by again suspending the Italian, only to reinstate him barely a month later.

CONI questioned Ballan about the matter in the summer of 2011, while in July 2013, it was confirmed that he would be among the 28 riders, managers, doctors and trainers who would face trial following the completion of the Mantova investigation. The trial is due to continue next week.

In spite of the ongoing ruminations of Ballan’s implication in the Mantova inquiry, however, it appears that BMC opted to extend the former world champion’s contract on at least one occasion since he signed with the team four years ago.

Ballan’s best season with BMC came in 2012, when he finished 3rd at both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, and won the Giro di Toscana and a stage of the Eneco Tour. The 34-year-old, who won the world title in Varese in 2008, is suspended until January 16, 2016.
 

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