Filippo Pozzato has admitted working with Dr. Michele Ferrari from 2005 to 2009 but claimed that he consulted with the notorious doctor only to obtain training programmes and advice on nutrition, according to a report in Gazzetta dello Sport.
The Farnese Vini-Selle Italia rider was called to appear before the Italian Olympic Committee’s (CONI) anti-doping procura in Rome on Tuesday to discuss allegations that he had been a client of Ferrari’s. La Repubblica reported at the weekend that investigators in the Padova-based doping inquiry had intercepted a telephone call in 2009 in which Pozzato had spoken of working with Ferrari.
“It’s true, I went to Michele Ferrari from 2005 to 2009, then they told me that it was forbidden and that I risked being suspended so I stopped going there,” Pozzato told the CONI hearing, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.
Ferrari was banned by the Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) on the back of rider testimony relating to his activities and in February 2002, the body announced that it would hand down suspensions of up to six months to riders who were found to have consulted with him.
“I never received any instructions about doping products,” Pozzato said. “I only got training plans from Ferrari.”
Such training advice is said to have come at quite a price - some €40,000 to €50,000 per year, according to La Repubblica. Pozzato is also said to have told the hearing that he “honestly” could not remember the telephone conversation from 2009 that was published in La Repubblica, although he did not deny that it had taken place.
Pozzato has long been touted to lead the Italian team at the London 2012 Olympics and given that CONI is set to announce its list of pre-selected athletes for the Games on Thursday, it is anticipated that a verdict on Pozzato’s case will be delivered promptly.
In the meantime, Pozzato has travelled north to Trentino to participate in an Italian team training camp ahead of Saturday’s national championships road race.
A legal loophole?
Charged with doping by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) last week, Michele Ferrari has long been a contentious presence in professional cycling. He was sacked as team doctor by the infamous Gewiss team after he told L’Équipe in 1994 that “EPO is not dangerous, it's the abuse that is. It's also dangerous to drink 10 litres of orange juice.” Nonetheless, Ferrari continued to practice his brand of sports medicine with a litany of individual riders thereafter, including, of course, Lance Armstrong.
On February 13, 2002, on the back of damning testimony about his practices from a number of riders, including Filippo Simeoni, the Italian Cycling Federation took the step of banning Ferrari and forbidding its riders from consulting with him.
The ruling states that “The Disciplinary Commission of the National Federation […] affirms the responsibility of Dr. Michele Ferrari in relation to the violation of article 158 of the UCI’s anti-doping rules and in effect […] bars Dr. Michele Ferrari from every future membership of the national and international cycling federation; it also forbids all members registered to the UCI to use the consultations or the professional services of the charged.”
In theory, Pozzato now faces a suspension of up to six months for consulting with Ferrari although it is understood that his legal team, led by Pierfilippo Capello, may attempt to argue that the regulation governing Ferrari has expired: Cyclingpro.it has pointed out that Ferrari does not feature on any of the FCI’s current Disciplinary Registers or lists of suspended persons.
The telephone interception published in La Repubblica on Saturday came from the wide-ranging Italian-based investigation into Ferrari's activities. Thus far, no charges have been formalised, but it is understood that some of the evidence from the Padova inquiry was used by USADA to build its case against Ferrari and Armstrong.
Pozzato was one of three riders disciplined by the FCI for abusing Filippo Simeoni in the wake of his spat with Lance Armstrong during stage 18 of the 2004 Tour de France. Simeoni was suing Armstrong for libel at the time, after the American had branded him a “liar” following his testimony against Ferrari.