Paolo Savoldelli has insisted that he never used doping products and described Dr. Michele Ferrari as “the best trainer there is” following a two-hour hearing before the Italian Olympic Committee’s anti-doping tribunal in Rome on Thursday. The Italian also claimed that there was no team doping system in place at Discovery Channel, where he raced in 2005 and 2006, and looked to distance himself from the testimony provided by Tom Danielson to USADA on the matter.
The double Giro d’Italia winner, who retired at the end of the 2008 season, was summoned by CONI last month “following the development of investigations underway for violation of the anti-doping rules.” Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Savoldelli confirmed that he had been questioned about the US Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into the doping system in place at the Discovery Channel team of Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel.
“I never used doping products. I’m tranquillissimo, very calm,” Savoldelli said, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. “If I wasn’t calm, I wouldn’t even have come. I’m not registered anymore and I haven’t raced for five years.”
Savoldelli downplayed speculation that his was one of the redacted names (“Rider 1”) in the testimony provided by former teammate Tom Danielson to USADA on the doping programme in place at Discovery Channel. Danielson described how “Rider 1,” a fellow Ferrari client, had organised a system for obtaining EPO during the 2006 Giro d’Italia. “I went to Rider 1 and asked him if he could help me with EPO for the race but he said that he had only enough for himself,” Danielson said.
“Of course I know him, but I don’t know English and he doesn’t know Italian, so how could we have discussed it?” Savoldelli said of Danielson, according to Corriere della Sera. “Danielson was given a two-year ban that was reduced to six months for collaborating, so what he says should be taken with a grain of salt. You only need to read his confession with intelligence to realise what it’s worth.”
Savoldelli also denied that he had been sent an email by Michele Ferrari’s son, Stefano, requesting him to sign a form swearing that he had never seen doping on the Discovery Channel team. “If they had sent me the email, I would have signed it, because I never saw team doping. But I never got the email,” Savoldelli said.
Asked if he had ever doubted the legitimacy of Armstrong’s performances while riding together on the same team, Savoldelli said: “I always thought that he was a champion, a fuoriclasse, even if as a person, I didn’t like him all that much. Still, he had uncommon physical gifts.”
Savoldelli did not deny that he had been a client of Dr. Michele Ferrari – “I collaborated with him in the past, but that was well-known and I didn’t hide it” – but defended the medic’s reputation in spite of the weight of evidence that saw USADA hand him a lifetime ban in 2012.
“Michele Ferrari, as I know him, is the best trainer there is. I won’t put my hand in the fire, but as I know him, he was the best,” Savoldelli said, seemingly unmoved by USADA’s Reasoned Decision. “I don’t know English, and I don’t know if that decision is right or wrong. If he has made mistakes, they will come out.”
In spite of his links to Ferrari, however, Savoldelli denied that he has been placed under criminal investigation as part of the long-running Padova anti-doping inquiry, which is understood to be centred on the controversial medic. Leaked evidence from the investigation has already led to three-month bans for Filippo Pozzato, Michele Scarponi and Giovanni Visconti, who all admitted to frequenting Ferrari.
Savoldelli was accompanied at Thursday’s hearing by his lawyer Pierfilippo Capello, the son of the football coach Fabio. Capello, who represented Pozzato when he was sanctioned for his Ferrari links, said that the questioning by CONI’s Tamarro Maiello had simply been a “request for clarification.”
However, Corriere della Sera reports that CONI is considering summoning other riders and coaches from the defunct Discovery Channel team before deciding on whether to sanction Savoldelli.
Savoldelli, who won the Giro in 2002 and 2005, retired at the end of 2008. The Bergamo native worked as a motorbike reporter for RAI television at the Giro in 2011 and 2012, but was unable to agree terms with the broadcaster ahead of last year’s race.