Italian prosecutors investigating doping within professional cycling are reported to have unravelled a complex web spanning prohibited substances, tax fraud and money laundering that allegedly includes annual payments of €250,000 being made by Lance Armstrong to the banned doctor, Michele Ferrari, via an anonymous company in Switzerland. Other cyclists implicated in the inquiry are said to include Denis Menchov and Michele Scarponi, both of whom are said to have had funds seized.
Working alongside Swiss colleagues, the ongoing enquiry based in Padua led by public prosecutor Benedetto Roberti is said to have established that the payments were made by Armstrong to his former trainer via a company based in Neuchatel called Health and Performance, reports the Milan-based newspaper, La Corriere della Sera.
Armstrong has consistently denied accusations of doping publicly levelled at him in the media by former US Postal Service team mates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, with George Hincapie also reported to have told a US Federal Grand Jury that he joined the Texan cyclist in taking performance enhancing substances.
The seven times Tour de France champion has claimed that he stopped working with Ferrari in 2004, but admitted earlier this year that he continues to see him and his family on a social basis. Ferrari was cleared of charges of supplying athletes with doping products in 2006, but remains banned from practising as a sports doctor in Italy.
Despite that, the Corriere della Sera says that investigators insist that Ferrari has carried on working with between 20 and 30 leading cyclists including, Armstrong himself, who announced his definitive retirement in February this year.
The paper, which says that Ferrari’s son was also involved in the doping ring and was in contact with Armstrong prior to last year’s Tour de France, adds that former Giro d’Italia and Vuelta champion Menchov, now racing for Geox-TMC, and the Lampre-ISD rider Michele Scarponi, third in this year’s Giro, are also in the investigators’ sights.
Menchov, who has never been sanctioned for doping, has reportedly had €2.4 million seized from his bank account. Funds have also been sequestered from Scarponi, who served a ban following Operacion Puerto and who has twice been searched by officers acting for the enquiry this year, who discovered a white substance that claimed was powdered milk.
The Corriere della Sera, which says that Ferrari in effect operated a mobile clinic from a camper van to enable him to elude investigators, says that in all some 30 people may face charges as a result of the enquiry.
Other cyclists who have reportedly been investigated as part of the enquiry include RadioShack’s Yaroslav Popovyvh, the Katusha pair of Vladimir Karpets and Vladimir Gusev, and Team Sky’s Morris Possoni.
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.