One team to have confirmed initial talks with the former Tour of Flanders winner is UnitedHeathcare, a US-based ProContinental team with a semi-European flavor. Despite brief negotiations between the rider and the team’s management, one major sticking point to the potential signing is the fact that the team is registered with the MPCC, whose rules dictate – although they’ve been open to interpretation before – that a registered team cannot sign a banned rider until two years after his ban has expired.
That could leave UnitedHealthcare with the tricky decision over whether to argue a case with the MPCC, leave the organization and sign Ballan, or walk away from the rider discussions altogether.
“The situation with Alessandro is more of a show for the media and the journalist. In all honesty we talked with him a long time ago but there’s the problem with the MPCC, which we’re members of. We’d like to respect the rules so there’s only been talks with him,” UnitedHeathcare director sportif Roberto Damiani told Cyclingnews.
“I like the possibility of Alessandro finishing his career with his head held high. He needs that but there’s only been some talks. He is interested in joining our team but I think he’s also talked to some WorldTour teams but you know what it’s like, if I talk to one rider then all of sudden he’s talking to the team.”
BMC return not an option for Ballan
Ballan confirmed to Cyclingnews on Friday that he had held discussions with UnitedHealthcare but said he would certainly not be joining the American squad before the end of this season, and said that their MPCC membership was a stumbling block to any potential agreement.
“I spoke with UnitedHealthcare and we exchanged emails to understand the situation but there’s been nothing more as of today,” Ballan said on Friday. “If we’re talking, it’s for next season rather than for the rest of this season.
“I’ve been in talks with some teams who would give me the possibility of coming back to racing straightaway but to tell you the truth there’s nothing concrete. I’m still talking with some teams and I’m hoping to have an answer soon.”
The ozone therapy infraction that triggered Ballan’s ban – he continues to insist that it did not constitute blood doping – took place in the spring of 2009, while he raced for Lampre. He would spend the next four seasons in the colours of BMC, and the case would hang over him for almost the duration of his spell at the team due to the ongoing Mantova anti-doping probe.
Ballan confirmed that he would not be making a return to BMC when his ban expires, even though the squad is not a member of the MPCC. “I always kept up a good relationship with BMC but they’ve said no for next year so I’ll have to take a different path,” he said.
He acknowledged that his options for a return are limited by MPCC regulations. Although four teams have left the movement thus far in 2015, nine WorldTour and some 18 Pro Continental squads remain on board, meaning that they could not sign Ballan before August 17, 2017.
“I’d like to come back in the WorldTour to get a good racing programme but it’s not easy when you come back from a ban like this, even though I never tested positive, because not all of the team managers know the story,” Ballan said. “And then there’s the MPCC, which doesn’t help me, because their rules mean that I can’t sign for member teams for a further two years. So there aren’t a lot of teams out there.”
Asked if UnitedHealthcare, at this point, would consider leaving the MPCC in order to sign Ballan, Damiani was unequivocal in his response.
“No, and at the moment it’s just talking, which took place a month ago,” Damiani said. “He lives close to the Wilier factory and he knows the owners. We’re professionals and it’s normal that there would be talks but it’s nothing more. We wouldn’t leave the MPCC, so like I said it’s just talks. There’s no problem.”
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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