Alessandro Ballan has set himself a deadline of the December 20 to find a team for 2016 or he will hang up his wheels and retire. The former World Champion has been struggling to find a new team for next year since completing an 18-month doping ban in August. Ballan had been linked with a number of teams, including UnitedHealthcare, but MPCC rules surrounding the signing of riders who have been suspended, along with other factors, put paid to that.
"I do not deserve to stop," he told Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday. “[To] do another season, or even six months would have been nice. Also I might get the opportunity to explain the absurd story that I was involved in. Above all, the regret is leaving not for a decision of my own but of someone else."
Ballan, who won the World Championship road race in Verese in 2008, was initially handed a two-year sentence by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) in January 2014 for undergoing ozone therapy in 2009 - when he was riding for Lampre-Merida. He was also handed a fine of €2,000. The Italian admitted to having the therapy but insisted that it had been for the treatment of hepatitis and said that he had removed himself from competition. Ballan appealed his ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), who reduced his ban by five months.
Ballan’s case came to light in the spring of 2010 as part of the Mantova doping inquiry. He was initially withdrawn from racing by his team at the time, BMC, but was put back on the roster just two months later. BMC then suspended him again the following season when a report in Gazzetta dello Sport pointed to a transcript of a phone conversation that appeared to make reference to the Italian blood doping in 2009. He was soon re-instated and continued to race for the remainder of the season.
It wasn’t until late 2011 that CONI began their own investigation before recommending two-year suspension for Ballan in 2013.
A total of 28 riders, trainers, pharmacists and doctors went on trial as part of the Mantova investigation. Last month, the prosecutor in the Mantova investigation called for Ballan to be handed a jail sentence. The closing statements in this long-running trial are set to be heard this Friday with any possible sentences expected on December 18.