Corriere della Sera lifts the lid on the slow moving doping trial
While Thursday's Gazzetta dello Sport broke the news that Lampre-Merida has signed Chris Horner for the 2014 season, the Corriere della Sera newspaper, also owned by the RCS Media Group, has published apparent details of the Mantova doping investigation, where 25 former riders and staff linked to the team are on trial.
Alessandro Ballan and the Mantova pharmacist Guido Nigrelli have already been banned by the Italian Olympic Committee. Ballan claimed he underwent ozone treatment to help him recover from the Cytomegalovirus but the WADA code prohibits any treatment that includes blood manipulation. Ballan reportedly plans to appeal against his two-year ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but has been sacked by the BMC team. Nigrelli has been banned for life.
The judge handling the Mantova trial recently ordered a specialist engineer to analyse 26 DVDs containing phone taps, video and other data collected by police during the investigation. They are considered a vital part of the trial but the public prosecutor and the defending lawyers disagree on exactly what was said because many of the conversations are in Veneto dialect.
Medicines seized during four police searches of the team between March and May 2009, will also be analysed and identified. The trial will finally begin in earnest on October 31, with 250 possible witnesses.
Saronni steps aside
Corriere della Sera describes Nigrelli as the 'right-hand man of Lampre team manager Giuseppe Saronni.
Saronni won the rainbow jersey in Goodwood in 1982 with a legendary late attack and was an Italian idol during the cycling boom of the seventies and eighties. He has now officially stepped aside as team manager at Lampre-Merida, with Brent Copeland taking his role. In November he also resigned as a board member and signatory of CGS Cycling Team AG, the Swiss-based company that manages the cycling team. However he remains very close to the Galbusera family that own Lampre and has considerable sway over the team.
Saronni and the team management allegedly sent riders to Mantova to visit Nigrelli for tests, and for medicines and supplements, even if they lived in other parts of Italy. Corriere della Sera claim that phone taps reveal conversations between Nigrelli, many of the Lampre riders and directeur sportif Fabrizio Bontempi and Maurizio Piovani.
A series of code words were used to describe different products. These included ciucciotti (dummies), uova (eggs), topogigi and culatello (cured ham). Corriere della Sera claims that one of the products is actually Hygetropin, an expensive growth hormone. Nigrelli is reported to have asked former Lampre rider Paolo Bossoni to find him the drug to give as a present.
The Italian newspaper also claims that Saronni made a change in the team's relation with Nigrelli in 2007, informing the riders that the team will no longer pay for Nigrelli's services.
Saronni, the Lampre team and many of the riders and staff implicated in the Mantova trial have denied any wrong doing.The team has changed significantly since Merida became a sponsor, signing world champion Rui Costa for 2014 and most recently Chris Horner.
Did Cunego say no?
A total of 18 riders, 15 of who rode with Lampre, will face the drawn out trial in Mantova before a first verdict is reached.
These include Ballan, who was world champion in Varese 2008 when he rode for Lampre, Marzio Bruseghin, Damiano Cunego, Simone Ponzi and Mauro Santambrogio, who tested positive in last year's 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.
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.
Spanish doctor José Ibarguren Taus is also on trial. He worked as a team doctor for Lampre and is again with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team in 2014.
The full-page report in Corriere della Sera reveals that Damiano Cunego was one of the few riders at Lampre to resist the pressure to be treated and coached by Nigrelli. It seems the phone taps do not implicate the 2004 Giro d'Italia winner, even if his name is included in a detailed dossier created by anti-doping expert Sandro Donati as part of the Mantova investigation.
Cunego has always denied any wrong doing but has always avoided speaking in detail about Nigrelli and the Mantova investigation. He is part of the Lampre-Merida team for 2014. However Corriere della Sera claims he could be one of the team leaders at Fernando Alonso's new team in 2015.