BMC has defended its decision to field Alessandro Ballan at Paris-Roubaix in spite of the allegations of blood doping that were levelled against the Italian by the head of the same Mantova-based anti-doping investigation that saw him withdrawn from the race twelve months ago.
BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz denied that the team had temporarily suspended Ballan for his implication in the Mantova investigation last year in order to safeguard its chances of earning a ProTeam licence for 2011.
“We don’t do things for licences,” Ochowicz told Cyclingnews after Paris-Roubaix. “That has absolutely nothing to do with it.”
In April 2010, Ballan was suspended by the then-Pro Continental BMC team when he was first named in relation to the Mantova inquiry, which is centred on his former Lampre squad. Now a ProTeam licence holder, BMC decided not to take any action when investigating magistrate Antonino Condorelli alleged in Saturday’s Corriere della Sera that Ballan had undergone a blood transfusion in May 2009.
“It was a decision on the team’s part that I respect because at the end of the day they had to protect themselves in order to take part in races, because we weren’t in the ProTour,” Ballan said at BMC’s training camp in Denia in January. “A team like Lampre didn’t have that problem so they didn’t stop their riders.”
As when news of the Mantova investigation broke in 2010, Lampre has again opted not to take any action against its riders and management, some of whom were named in an article on Tuttobiciweb.it as being among the 32 people apparently set to face charges.
Damiano Cunego was listed by Tuttobiciweb.it, but he raced on Sunday, winning the Giro dell’Appennino. He said afterwards that he was not concerned by the reports. “I’m absolutely calm,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Nobody has said anything to me, what little I know, I’ve learnt from the newspapers. I don’t have a lawyer, why should I have one?”
On Friday, Lampre-ISD manager Giuseppe Saronni, who was also named by Tuttobiciweb, issued a statement on behalf of the team, saying that, “At the moment, those of the team involved and their lawyers have not yet received any communication or notification, so it's obviously not possible to make any comment.”
What’s another year?
When asked about the difference between this year and last, Ochowicz explained that BMC did not withdraw Ballan from its line-up for the 2011 Paris-Roubaix because he has not been charged with any new offence.
“To tell you the truth, the investigation started way before a year ago,” Ochowicz said. “We’re not talking about a year, we’re now into some kind of two, three-year period, so it isn’t like this thing has just reappeared by itself.”
Ochowicz also said that even though the investigation was ongoing when BMC decided to reinstate Ballan last May, the team was satisfied that the Italian had given his full cooperation.
“All I can say is that Ballan has cooperated with the investigation and that’s when we brought him back, because he met with the magistrate and did his verbal investigation with the authorities, and after that was done we brought him back to racing,” Ochowicz said. “We haven’t heard a thing about it since then, until somebody put it in the newspaper on Friday.
In spite of the gravity of Condorelli’s allegations of blood doping, Ochowicz reiterated that BMC would not consider action against Ballan until such charges are formalised
“I don’t know if they’re true or false, I can’t tell you, and I’m not sure anybody else can at this point,” Ochowicz said. “An allegation is just what it is, an allegation. If there’s a charge brought against him then we’ll have to take another look at it, but that isn’t the case.”
Meanwhile, BMC directeur sportif John Lelangue refused to discuss the team’s decision to select Ballan for the race. “I am here to speak about Roubaix, sports,” he told Cyclingnews.