Top Italian cyclists are facing the firing squad over their links to Lance Armstrong’s infamous trainer, Michele Ferrari. First Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini), who met with anti-doping prosecutor on Tuesday, and now last year’s Giro d’Italia winner, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD).
Scarponi will travel to CONI’s Rome headquarters on Wednesday, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, and could face a lifetime ban. He already served a 15-month ban for his connection to the Operación Puerto doping investigation. His tests with Ferrari, allegedly in September 2010, may end is pro career.
Ferrari trained under Professor Francesco Conconi, who helped introduce EPO to cycling. He faced criminal charges accusing him of distributing doping products, but was cleared in 2006. Since February 13, 2002, however, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has banned him from working with UCI-licensed cyclists in Italy.
Armstrong was rumoured to have worked with Ferrari during his comeback to cycling from 2008 until this year, even if in 2004 he said that the relationship was over. In an on-going investigation, public prosecutor Benedetto Roberti is said to have found records that show Armstrong made payments to Ferrari via a Swiss company called Health & Performance.
Armstrong and Ferrari both deny the claims. However, Roberti first shared his information with the USA’s Food and Drug Administration, for its investigation led by Jeff Novitzky and then with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Earlier this month, June 12, the USADA opened “formal action” against Ferrari, Armstrong and four others. According to the USADA’s notice letter, Ferrari possessed, trafficked and administered drugs such as EPO and testosterone.
In Italy, working with Ferrari, via email or simple training plans, risks receiving a six-month ban. If Italy’s Olympic committee finds evidence of doping, the ban would be longer.
Pozzato pushed Tom Boonen to the limit this April, nearly winning the Tour of Flanders, and is one of Italy’s strongest classics riders. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that he admitted in Tuesday’s hearing that he received training plans from Ferrari from 2005 to 2009, years he raced with teams Quick Step, Liquigas and Katusha. His post as leader in Italy’s Olympic and Worlds team is now in doubt as CONI may suspend him.
Scarponi took last year’s Giro d’Italia title after a separate doping investigation stripped Alberto Contador of it. He made his comeback from Operación Puerto with wins also in Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Catalonia, but at the same time, he relied on Ferrari. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Ferrari tested him twice south of Modena in Monzuno.
Ahead of the Giro d’Italia last year, Italy’s anti-Narcotics police, NAS, made several raids. One of those included the hotel on Mount Etna where Scarponi was training, the others involved Leonardo Bertagnolli, Giovanni Visconti and several team Katusha cyclists.
Depending on the information Roberti shared, the committee’s anti-doping prosecutor, Ettore Torri may be meeting with more cyclists soon.