The Astana team has declined to comment on a report in Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday which claimed that Dr. Michele Ferrari had visited the squad's training camp at Montecatini Terme in November of last year.
Citing information gleaned from the long-running Padova doping inquiry, Gazzetta reports that investigators photographed Ferrari meeting with members of the team outside the hotel one night in November 2013. A spokesman for Astana said that the team had no comment to make on the allegation when contacted by Cyclingnews on Monday morning.
Ferrari has been banned for life by both the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and USADA, and it is expressly forbidden for athletes to avail of his services as a coach. In the past three years, CONI has sanctioned riders for frequenting the doctor, including Astana's Michele Scarponi (then at Lampre), who was given a three-month ban in late 2012.
The news of Ferrari's alleged visit comes as the UCI Licence Commission deliberates over Astana's future in the WorldTour following a spate of recent positive tests, two on the WorldTour team and three on the since-suspended Continental outfit. The Licence Commission has said that it is undertaking a review of Astana's "management and anti-doping policies," suggesting that general manager Alexandre Vinokourov's doping past could be taken into consideration.
Vinokourov was himself coached by Ferrari prior to his positive test for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France but he has indicated that he will not speak to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission on his career. A final decision on Astana's WorldTour licence is expected by Wednesday of this week.
Gazzetta does not name the Astana members who met with Ferrari in November 2013, but the newspaper stresses that Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali was not among them. In the 500-page report compiled by the Padova inquiry, Gazzetta says, there "isn't a line, nothing, that talks of a relationship between Nibali and Ferrari. There was no contact between the rider and the doctor."
Led by magistrate Benedetto Roberti, the Padova investigation has been open since 2010 and is centred on Ferrari's activities. The inquiry has involved phone taps, house searches and the seizure of bank records and has already led to the suspensions of Scarponi, Filippo Pozzato and Giovanni Visconti for their links to Ferrari.
In October 2012, it was also reported that the Padova inquiry had uncovered a large money laundering and tax evasion system linked to the doping investigation, which involved at least 20 athletes.
According to Monday's Gazzetta, some 90 riders are named in the over 500 pages of documents that Padova investigators have sent to CONI.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.