A doping enquiry in Italy is threatening to engulf the Lampre-Farnese Vini team, which had its ProTour status for 2010 confirmed by the UCI only last week.
And as a post on the Boulder Report blog of the US-based website Bicycling.com points out, the Italian team’s woes could spell good news for Dutch Professional Continental outfit Vacansoleil, which last week missed out on a wild card entry to this year’s Tour de France.
According to the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport, details are emerging from a two-year anti-doping enquiry, called ‘Via Col Doping” – ‘Out With Doping’ – led by the Mantova prosecutor’s office that link a number of cyclists and team staff at the ProTour outfit to Guido Nigrelli, owner of the Maria Assunta pharmacy in Mariana Mantovana, the man at the centre of the probe.
Among those who potentially face charges relating to an infringement of Article 9 of Italy’s anti-doping law are team manager Giuseppe Saronni and sporting directors Maurizio Piovani and Fabrizio Bontempi.
Riders potentially implicated in the investigation include 2008 World Road Champion Alessandro Ballan, now with BMC Racing, and Damiano Cunego, plus 11 other past and present team members.
Saronni insists that the team has nothing to hide. “None of our team has behaved in an incorrect manner,” the Gazzetta dello Sport quoted him as saying. “Nigrelli has never been an employee of ours. Lampre pays Sergio Gelati as our athletic trainer. I would put my hand in the fire for him.” Gelati doesn’t figure on the list of 35 names that has been leaked, however.
Details of the enquiry began to emerge at the weekend, when sprinter Lorenzo Bernucci suddenly pulled out of the squad for the Tour of Flanders, with the team saying that he had returned to Italy due to “sudden illness.”
His pressing need to go back home, however, turned out not to be due to illness, but rather a police raid on his house in Quarratta, where police are reported to have discovered a variety of banned substances.
The home of team leader Alessandro Petacchi was also searched, according to reports. There is no news of whether anything incriminating was found at Petacchi's home, nor whether he is implicated in the wider enquiry.
News of the investigation comes less than a week after the UCI confirmed that Lampre, which had been racing under a provisional registration until 31 March following rejection of its initial ProTour registration last year, had successfully completed the registration procedure for 2010.
Last week, it was also confirmed that Lampre, as one of 16 ProTour teams surviving from September 2008, had been confirmed as taking part in this year’s Tour de France as a result of an agreement made that month between cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation, which provided that current ProTour teams would be guaranteed places in the 2009 and 2010 editions of the race.
ASO has in the past moved swiftly to prevent both teams and riders implicated in doping enquiries from competing in the race, and is bound to be watching developments in Italy with interest.
Should it decide to exclude Lampre from this year’s race, that could open the door for Dutch professional outfits Vacansoleil or Skil Shimano to be invited to participate in its place.
Despite this year’s race starting in the Netherlands, both the Dutch outfits missed out on wild card entries last year, with the six places up for grabs going to high-profile teams that either don’t have ProTour status, or which were formed subsequent to September 2008, the teams in question being Team RadioShack, Team Sky, Katusha, Cervélo TestTeam, Garmin-Transitions and BMC Racing.
Of the two Dutch teams, Vacansoleil perhaps has the strongest case for inclusion. Partly, that’s down to its early season form, plus a good showing in last year’s Vuelta in which Slovenian sprinter Borut Božič won a stage.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s also home to the Feillu brothers, respectively the last Frenchman to wear the race leader’s yellow jersey – Romain in 2008 – and to win a stage – Brice last year.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.