Mixed feelings for Ballan after Mantova verdict

Alessandro Ballan has admitted to mixed feelings after he and other past and current members of the Lampre team were cleared of wrongdoing at the end of the long-running Mantova doping trial.

After two hours of deliberations on Friday, Guido Nigrelli, the pharmacist at the centre of the case, and masters rider Sebastian Gilmozzi were given six-month suspended sentences and fines, but the other 25 defendants – including Ballan, Damiano Cunego and Giuseppe Saronni – were all cleared.

Ballan has already served a 19-month ban for the use of ozone therapy in the spring of 2009, which came to light as a result of the Mantova inquiry. In a hearing before the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), Ballan admitted to undergoing ozone therapy to treat cytomegalovirus though he continues to claim that it did not constitute blood doping. He was eventually handed a ban in January 2014.

“I’m happy but disappointed at the same time,” Ballan told Gazzetta dello Sport after learning of Friday’s verdict in the criminal case. “Better late than never but I’m still angry about how long it took, it seemed an infinity.”

Ballan was fired by the BMC team after his ban – initially set at two years – was announced in January 2014. He said that he would now consider lodging an appeal against his sporting sanction by CONI, as well as seeking damages for loss of earnings.

“I’ll sit down with my lawyer Fabio Pavone and we’ll make a careful evaluation of my suspension and we’ll also evaluate, why not, to see if there are grounds to request damages,” Ballan said.

Although the 36-year-old Ballan’s suspension expired in August, he has thus far been unable to find a team in the professional peloton. Ballan has been in talks with the Southeast team in recent weeks, and following the end of the criminal case against him, it appears that the biggest obstacle to his arrival on the team is the presence of Filippo Pozzato, with whom he has shared an uneasy rapport in recent years.

“Filippo and I haven’t spent time together in three years now but it would be stupid if he didn’t want me in the team with him. I’d still be able to help in the races that suit him the most,” Ballan said.

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, Lampre-Merida welcomed the end of the Mantova trial, which has dogged the team since early 2010. “The Mantova Court has rendered justice to a team that has operated in cycling for almost a quarter of century, from before the senseless and repeated attempts to manipulate the facts, which threatened the activity of the team in the World Tour,” the statement read.

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