Alessandro Ballan (BMC) has been called to appear before the Italian Olympic Committee’s National Anti-Doping Tribunal on January 16, where he will respond to charges stemming from the Mantova-based police investigation into alleged doping at his former Lampre team.
CONI’s anti-doping prosecutor has recommended a two-year suspension for the former world champion, citing article 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Agency code, which forbids the "Use or attempted use by an athlete of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method."
Ballan is alleged to have undergone performance enhancing blood transfusions during the 2009 season, but he claimed to Gazzetta dello Sport last week that he had not done so and had instead received ozone treatment to aid his recovery from Cytomegalovirus.
However, one method of ozone therapy involves the withdrawal of blood, its treatment with ozone and re-infusion of blood. The WADA code forbids any form of blood transfusion. "I did an infinite number of controls and my biological passport speaks clearly. Do you think it’s right that I’ve been massacred because of this?" Balln told Gazzetta.
The police investigation was based around the Lampre team’s links to Nigrelli, a Mariana Mantovana-based pharmacist, in 2008 and 2009, and was first reported in 2010. Ballan, Nigrelli and Bonazzi are among 27 riders and staff, primarily from that Lampre team, who have been implicated in the police investigation and are set to face trial from December 10, separate to the sporting proceedings initiated against them by CONI.
Among the 27 people who will go on trial are Ballan, Damiano Cunego, Mauro Santambrogio and Marzio Bruseghin, as well as Lampre manager Giuseppe Saronni and directeurs sportifs Maurizio Piovani and Fabrizio Bontempi.
News of Ballan’s implication first broke in April 2010, when his new team BMC temporarily suspended him from racing and later reactivated him. In 2011, Gazzetta dello Sport published further revelations about Ballan’s involvement, including phone transcriptions of conversations about blood transfusions between Ballan and Nigrelli, and between Nigrelli and Bonazzi.
Ballan and his teammate Mauro Santambrogio – who since tested positive test for EPO while at Vini Fantini-Selle Italia this year – were again temporarily suspended in May 2011 by BMC, who said they would be “held out of competition pending further details.” Yet a month later, the pair was reactivated because the team said it had “never been notified by any authorities regarding these alleged actions and conversations.”
General manager Jim Ochowicz denied that BMC’s handling of the matter was inconsistent. “I don’t see any contradiction at all,” he told Cyclingnews in May 2011.
When further developments in the slow-moving Mantova case were reported in 2012 and 2013, BMC opted not to take further action against Ballan, who has now spent four seasons at the team with the investigation rumbling in the background. The Italian missed most of the 2013 season due to injuries sustained in a training crash last December.
Following the CONI prosecutor’s request for a two-year ban for Ballan last week, BMC said: “At this time, no decision to remove him from active status has been made.”