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Italian newspaper claims 35 people under investigation, including Ballan and Cunego
Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport has revealed further details of the police investigation that has engulfed the Lampre-Farnese Vini team, claiming that 16 riders and staff from the team have been formally placed under investigation for doping related offences.
A total of 35 people are under investigation by police in Mantova as part of a two-year investigation. Local media in Italy have suggested the investigation was sparked by the confession of Emanuele Sella after he tested positive for CERA in 2008.
The investigation is centred around pharmacist Guido Nigrelli in the tiny village of Mariana Mantovana in northern Italy.
Amongst the names Gazzetta list as being under investigation are current and former Lampre riders, including Damiano Cunego, Francesco Gavazzi, Alessandro Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio. Team manager Giuseppe Saronni and directeur sportif Fabrizio Bontempi and Maurizio Piovani are also named by Gazzetta. Dr Andrea Andreazzoli is also listed but he now works with the Astana team.
Ballan and Santambrogio now ride for the US-registered BMC team. According to Gazzetta, they are under investigation for possibly breaking the Italian anti-doping law for use or possession of banned substances. They risk a possible sentence of between three months and three years, which could be doubled if they are found of selling banned substances.
Under Italian law, anyone under suspicion in a major case can be formally placed under investigation by the police. Gazzetta report that the people involved in the case have been notified of a recent request by the investigating judge for further time to study what is a complex case.
However investigations are often dropped against people as evidence emerges they are not involved. For example, 54 people were initially placed under investigation following the police raids at the San Remo during the 2001 Giro d'Italia. Only a handful went on trial and were eventually found guilty.
Ballan says he has received notification from Italian police
Damiano Cunego is riding the Tour of the Basque Country in Spain. He told Gazzetta that he had called home and had not received any police notice. Ballan is riding the Sheldeprijs race in Belgium today. He admitted that he been notified by Italian police at his home on Tuesday.
"I discovered about the investigation today (yesterday)," Ballan told Gazzetta. "I received the request for a six-month extension to the initial investigations. I've given everything to Cecconi, my lawyer."
Dr Andreazzoni also denied being notified of the investigation.
On Tuesday the Lampre-Farnese Vini team issued a press release denying any wrongdoing and Saronni reiterated that line in Gazzetta on Wednesday.
"Nobody from our team has behaved wrongly," he told Gazzetta. "Nigrelli has never been employed by us. Lampre pays Sergio Gelati as a coach and I totally trust him. The link with Nigrelli is that he works with Gelati but it is Gelati that does the tests and training programmes for Lampre."
Gelati is not one of the 35 people placed under investigation.
Nigrelli revealed to Gazzetta that the Lampre team buys its medicines from his pharmacy. "I've been a friend of Saronni for 30 years and the doctors from the team have the courtesy to buy their medicines from this pharmacy. But legal medicines!" he said.
Gazzetta also spoke to Nigrelli's lawyer who suggested the investigation was sparked by a 'hard fought separation' from his wife, Gloria Guastella, who reportedly works at the immunology and transfusion unit of the Mantova hospital.
Guastella lawyer's told Gazzetta: "They separated in 2007 and my client doesn't know anything about what happened afterwards. During their case she talked about marriage and asked for a decent maintenance payment, which we got. We want more."
The lawyer then added: "One of the problems of their separation was the arrival of the NAS (Italian drug police) in their home."
Gazzetta reported that the Italian Olympic Committee's doping investigators have already contacted the Mantova police to ask to see the evidence collected and possibly open an investigation.
However before that happens, the judge handling the case will have to close at least a part of the police investigation.