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Damiano Cunego (Lampre Merida).
Ballan, Cunego amongst 15 Lampre riders facing December hearing
The long-running Mantova-based doping investigation centred around the Lampre team has taken a significant step forward with a preliminary hearing judge deciding that 27 people, including riders, team staff and management who worked for the Italian team, should go on trial for doping.
The pharmacist at the centre of the case Guido Nigrelli is amongst the 27, along with team manager and former world champion Giuseppe Saronni and directeur sportif Maurizio Piovani and Fabrizio Bontempi.
18 riders, 15 of whom rode with Lampre, face a long trial on Mantova. These include Alessandro Ballan, world champion in Varese 2008 when he rode for Lampre, Marzio Bruseghin, Damiano Cunego, Simone Ponzi and Mauro Santambrogio, who tested positive at the recent Giro d'Italia while riding for the Vini Fantini team. Denmark's Michael Rasmussen was also listed as a client of Nigrelli. He has since confessed to doping from 1998 to 2010.
Cunego, Mori and Francesco Gavazzi, who now rides for Astana, are currently riding the Tour de France.
Emanuele Bindi was found guilty and given a one-year suspended sentence after opting to plea bargain. Francesco Tomei was found not guilty despite the public prosecutor calling for a 26-month sentence.
The trial will begin in Mantova on December 10. All those involved have been accused of breaking the Italian anti-doping laws. Some have been accused of working together to "procure, supply and favour the use of doping products that were justified by medical needs and were taken to alter physical performance of the Lampre riders."
Team doctors Carlo Guardascione and Andrea Andreazzoli are not implicated in the case. It seems that riders were ordered to visit and use Nigrelli's pharmacy. The riders are accused of acquiring and receiving illegal sourced doping products.
Many of the riders have vehemently denied any wrong doing but will now have to explain their links to Nigrelli and the role of the Lampre team under oath in Mantova in December.
The Lampre-Merida team hit back at the judges decision in a statement pointing out that no new elements of the case emerged in the preliminary hearing, that phone tap evidence has not yet been fully analysed and that everyone is considered innocent until found guilty.
The Italian WorldTour team insisted its full support for the team members involved and is convinced that they will be able to overturn the accusations made against them. The team also warned that will study possible legal action against those who have damaged the imager of the team.