The Italian judge in charge of the investigation in Mantova that has engulfed the Lampre-Farnese Vini team has said he expects to complete his work before the end of May. That would mean any decision on formally accusing those involved would be made during this year's Giro d'Italia (May 8-30), with any incriminating evidence also likely to emerge at the same time.
The investigation is still big news in Italy with Gazzetta dello Sport again dedicating two pages to it on Thursday under the headline of "Un 'inchiesta che fa tremare' -an investigation that makes you shake with fear. One page carried an interview with the judge and the other an interview with Guido Nigrelli, the pharmacist at the centre of the investigation.
Nigrelli again denied any wrongdoing. He confirmed that former World Champion Alessandro Ballan used to do testing with him and confirmed he has been a friend of Lampre team manager Giuseppe Saronni for 30 years. He also said the Lampre-Farnese Vini team doctors ordered regular supplies of medicines from him but insisted he had not done anything illegal.
"The thing that has bothered me the most is that 60 families risk everything. If Lampre doesn't ride the Giro, it'll close down," he said, raising the spectre that the future of the Italian team could be at risk.
"It'd be better in the judge says something specific. I also don't like being compared to Fuentes and linked to Austria. I haven't been to Austria since 1987. I was at the worlds in Villach when Stephen Roche won. But as a spectator."
"They (Lampre doctors) did me a huge favour by ordering their medicines from me, but they were they totally legal medicines. Every so often some one came to do a test. But normal stuff, such as threshold tests. I'd also give them some advice on nutrition and recovery, even homeopathic stuff. I always did them for free and in friendship."
Nigrelli confirmed he is close friends with Lampre-Farnese Vini coach Sergio Gelati.
"We're friends and work together. He also does tests with me. He's a good coach. I know he worked with Cunego last year but I don't know Damiano (Cunego)."
And Ballan? "I followed him, he used to come and do some tests: I haven't seen him for a while."
Judge confirms 35 people under investigation
The judge handling the investigation spoke for the first time in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.
Antonino Condorelli confirmed that the investigation began in 2008 and said that 35 people had been notified about the case, clarifying that under Italian law, everyone linked to an investigation has to be notified even if there is no evidence against them.
He revealed that other non-Italian people were involved and hinted at links to another other case outside of Italy, possibly the Humanplasma investigation in Austria. He also said that some people involved were from outside of Italy.
When asked about the investigation's subject, he replied, "The investigation is based on the hypothesis of crimes related to the selling of banned substances. It starts in 2008. The most interesting things are from 2009."
Condorelli also replied to questions about those involved. "I can't reveal any names. The inclusion on the list of people under investigation absolutely does not mean there is evidence of guilt. I'll reveal the names only at the end of the investigation, when there will be a request for trial or the case will be archived."
As to the number of individuals involved, he said, "Between 30 and 40, with 35 close to the real number. All of them have received the request to extend the time for the investigation at least twice.
Gazzetta dello Sport asked whether anything had been seized and if there were any links with Vienna, where there is a Humanplasma laboratory. "Something relevant has been found. There could be a link."
Commenting on any concrete hypothesis regarding team doping, he said, "Certain set-ups have been particularly investigated. To reach a level of team doping, you need important proof. Usually in this sector there is individual responsibility. Then you've got to check the relationship between individuals and collective structures. If individuals get together, it can affect collectives."
When asked if the investigation started from Gloriana Guastalla, Guido Nigrelli's wife, he said, "The lady wasn't known to us. The investigation started on its own. The investigators (the NAS - Italian drugs police) did an excellent job."
The investigation has to be completed, with papers deposited before the end of May.