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Report: Details of the Lampre Mantova investigation emerge

Stephen Farrand
January 30, 12:55,
January 30, 11:38
First Edition Cycling News, Thursday, January 30, 2014
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) has had a disappointing 2013 campaign.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) has had a disappointing 2013 campaign.

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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.

TourOfSardinia 7 months ago
Piccolo Principe innocente
ceramiccyclist 7 months ago
While I think it is likely that Cunego has one or two skeletons in the cupboard, it seems to be emerging more and more, with testimony from Bertogliatti for instance, that he has always resisted doping, but at the personal cost of his talent and confidence being gradually eroded away. In these days of an apparently more humane and cleaner sport, a rider of talent should be able to win, but if that rider has lost confidence and motivation then he will be unlikely to be able to capitalise on the physical playing field being levelled. Cunego seems to be a fragile and difficult character who struggles to get on with his teammates whereas serial doper Danilo di Luca ironically seems to generate high praise for his leadership and team mate qualities.
Luke Morris 7 months ago
Will Cunego ever regain the confidence and edge to compete for the big races again? Seems unlikely. It's a real shame though. A couple of years ago he had that 6th in the Tour and was winning Switzerland until the final TT. As a fan of his, I'm glad to see that he resisted what must have been huge pressure to dope.
bianchi1885 7 months ago
I'm also a fan of 'Kid Cunego'. Let's hope these initial reports that there appear to be no smoking guns against him hold true. Certainly his performances of the last 5 years suggest nothing extra-terrestrial. I was in Valkenburg back in 2008 when he won his only Amstel Gold. He sported a "I'm doping free" sticker-tattoo on his arm.
Cance > TheRest 7 months ago
Yes, respect to Cunego. One of the most talented riders in the last 10 years, but very unlucky and perhaps not too good in deciding what kind of races to focus... I'm just happy that he did get some results before his current downfall in results. He still has some years in him and I hope he will regain some of his past strength
Max Headwind 7 months ago
Even if you are from another planet it is obvious Lampre has an ongoing program of systemic doping. Perhaps half the teams on the Pro Tour have similar programs. Anyone involved in Pro Cycling has a pretty good idea who is clean or dirty, the question is who long can the clean teams continue competing at a disadvantage? I think that answer depends on the commitment of the governing bodies resolve in fighting systemic doping. Cases like the Mantova doping investigation will have profound implications on the future of doping in our sport. When ever multiple athletes or team staff members are implicated in doping it is obvious there is a program of systemic doping and the team should be fined and sanctioned just like an individual rider. The ability to detect drugs will always be behind the the latest drugs or techniques so when an athlete is actually caught the penalties should be crushing. Crushing financially, A rider caught doping should lose their entire lifetime cycling income from Primes to Sponsorship. Today the financial penalties are a joke.
wrinklyvet 7 months ago
Would that be "has an ongoing program" or " had an ongoing program" in your opinion? Just as a matter of interest, though I approve of significant sanctions and bans, together with anything reasonable to discourage doping, how can a rider caught doping "lose their entire lifetime cycling income" when it will have been spent at least in part on living expenses in the meantime? How can you take away what someone no longer has? Is it proportional to put all riders caught doping into bankruptcy? We still have to see the end of the Armstrong saga being played out, with many potential claims against him, but not everyone will be worth suing as much as he may be.
Max Headwind 7 months ago
I would say about 40% of the teams have full-on programs limited only by the current level of testing. If Lampre is clean at the moment it is only because of the current level of scrutiny; kind of like time off for an injury. It takes a top medical staff to evade doping control. It appear to me virtually impossible to dope individually inside a clean team environment with the day to day requirement needed to monitoring and maintaining drug use. The income agreement would be part of the UCI license agreement. My point is when a lifetime cheat like Lance can walk away with a couple hundred million dollars the sanctions are not really a deterrent as much as a challenge for other morally bankrupt people to try there hand at gaming the system and a number of teams appear to be doing just that today.
wrinklyvet 7 months ago
Thank you for answering. However "The income agreement would be part of the UCI license agreement" makes no real effort to explain where a rider could ever find all the money he ever earned from cycling, if he had such a penalty to pay. It's a totally unrealistic sanction. OK I know you want a deterrent. However this one is not practical. There's an easy answer - don't dope. However, in a Chinese Clenbuterol case or other strict liability situation, especially if genuine, how is a man who spent his income year by year supposed to be able to miraculously produce it again and hand it over. Come on, you're having a laugh if you think this will pass muster.
DirtyWorks 7 months ago
Doping is not expensive. There are amateur and low-ranked pro EPO sanctions in North America. The tests to evade a positive are not expensive either. A team dedicated to winning at any cost would simply provide enough testing to keep the rider in "never tested positive" range. Within the cost structure of a high-ranked cycling team, those testing costs would not be large.
Max Headwind 7 months ago
Thanks Vet for your comments, Good points, I will elaborate, many legal cases have judgements that cannot be met, usually leading to bankruptcy. But some have also invested their income and have more then they made. Concerning the questionable cases, this type of sanction would only be leveled when there was clear intent. Which is the case now where short suspensions are not uncommon. So with something like Chinese Clenbuterol would not be sanctioned in he same way Alberto was where plasticizers were found in his blood, and after an extensive search no tainted beef has been found an( to this day )no addition athlete have tested for Clenbuterol in Spain. All pretty much common sense. In the USA most racers race for love of the sport, but in other countries it is all about the money. The point is the sanctions should be so tough that doping (all morals aside) is a bad business decision. that is not currently the situation.
Lucifa 7 months ago
Bunch of cycling drug cheats.