Four years after a police investigation first began, Italian professional Luca Paolini has been formally ordered to stand trial for allegedly buying and using banned substances. A trial date was set this week after an Italian judge wrapped up the four-year Operazione Athena, which had investigated a drug dealing ring in several gyms in the Bergamo and Como area of northern Italy.
According to Italian newspapers Gazzetta dello Sport and the Eco di Bergamo, Paolini will go on trial in Bergamo on May 7, along with 28 other people, including former professional Eddy Mazzoleni.
Mazzoleni's former girlfriend, Elisa Basso, the sister of Ivan Basso, is also facing trial.
The Italian newspapers report that Paolini is accused of allegedly buying and using banned drugs, including EPO in July 2005. In 2006 he was allowed to ride the World road race Championships in Salzburg, Austria as part of the Italian team, despite being formally notified that he was under investigation.
Paolini is not on the start list for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and did not ride the Giro del Trentino. The 33-year-old Italian is riding with the Acqua & Sapone team this year and recently wore the leader's jersey at the Three Days of De Panne before losing it to David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) in the final time trial.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Mazzoleni and Elisa Basso also face trial unless they plea bargain, with Basso reportedly accused of allegedly selling illegal drugs and banned substances. Mazzoleni finished third in the 2007 Giro d'Italia behind Danilo Di Luca. He retired in July that year and was subsequently banned for two years for his involvement in the Oil for Drugs investigation in Italy. He now runs a restaurant.
The police investigation was called Operazione Athena and initially saw eight people arrested and several gyms searched by police. Police reportedly found 22,000 phials of drugs and 5200 pills, including EPO, Viagra, growth hormone and amphetamines.