BMC Racing’s plans for the Giro d’Italia have been thrown into turmoil after the US-based outfit confirmed that former world champion Alessandro Ballan, who had been due to lead it in the race, and fellow Italian Mauro Santambrogio, have both been stood down from the team as the Mantova-based investigation into doping within professional cycling continues.
If the news has a familiar ring to it, that’s because BMC placed the same two riders on its inactive list a little over 12 months ago after news first broke of their becoming embroiled in that enquiry, which centres around the Lampre team. Both Ballan, aged 31, and Santambrogio, 26, rode for the Italian outfit before joining BMC.
Last year, Ballan was cleared to race again by BMC by the end of May, and took third place the following month to Giovanni Visconti in the Italian national road championships. His results this year include second behind Philippe Gilbert in the Montepaschi Strade Bianche, plus fourth and sixth respectively in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix.
Prior to that latter race, BMC came under criticism for keeping Ballan in its line-up for the Northern French Classic as new allegations of involvement in doping were levelled at him in the Italian press.
Santambrogio, meanwhile, returned from his absence last year to help provide one of the season’s most striking images as he nursed team leader Cadel Evans, who turned out to have suffered a broken elbow the previous day, to the finish of Stage 9 of the Tour de France as the Australian unsuccessfully tried to hang on to the maillot jaune, the pair in tears as they embraced after crossing the line.
In a statement published on its website, the California-based team said: “The ongoing Italian investigation, which includes two of our current members, Alessandro Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio, continues. The investigation started when the two were not part of the BMC Racing Team. ”
BMC Racing Team President and General Manager Jim Ochowicz explained: “New information received, along with consideration of the team's anti-doping policy and the UCI's Code of Conduct, means the two will be held out of competition pending further details.
“Both riders have been cooperating fully with the investigation, and, as we did last year, we will respect their presumption of innocence and we expect them to continue their full support to the authorities.”
He added that the team would “monitor the investigation and both riders will have to personally address any accusations on their own.”
Given their previous involvement in the Mantova enquiry, it’s not entirely clear what the "new information" is that has prompted BMC to take the measure now of standiong down Ballan and Santambrogio, who both rode in yesterday’s Granfondo fi’zi:k which started and finished near Vicenza.
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.