Lampre breaks from its Italian roots as Mantova doping case lingers

With a doping investigation lingering, Lampre-Merida is focusing on 2014 — which includes anchoring its grand tour plans around Rui Costa

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MILAN (VN) — Lampre-Merida wants to break free of its Italian heritage and links to the Mantova doping investigation. This week, the team meets in northern Italy in Darfo Boario Terme with an eye on moving ahead.

South African Brent Copeland, the new team manager, leads the charge. In his ranks is Portugal’s star and new world champion Rui Costa.

“We have to keep stepping it up,” Copeland told VeloNews in response to the neon blue and pink team being considered Italy’s No. 2.

Cannondale, with Peter Sagan, is No. 1 and Lampre, despite 22 years, appears a long way behind.

“I agree, but that’s also because of the budget. If you have a good budget, then you can buy riders that are competitive in the three grand tours and get points,” Copeland said. “Now, with the help of Merida and Lampre, we tried to re-enforce the team to get points.”

Stepping up

General Manager Giuseppe Saronni hired Copeland this summer after he left South African team, MTN-Qhubeka. Copeland, who lives in Como, worked in the team before as a sports director and left to help Moto GP star, Ben Spies. He felt he as though he returned to his family.

“They said that they wanted to make the team more international,” Copeland explained. “They have more international sponsors and the English language is more important for the team.”

Lampre finished the season 14th in the UCI rankings, which was, of course, behind Cannondale. It keeps its classic colors for 2014 but makes several changes. Saronni and Copeland signed Costa, who went on to win the world championship road race in Florence. He joins the team from Movistar and brings his rainbow jersey with him.

Nelson Oliveira, also from Portugal, joins the squad as well. Sacha Modolo steps up from the second division. Having won nine sprints this year, he should help Lampre take valuable UCI points.

Copeland has their schedules already planned for 2014. He wanted to see Lampre move up its scheduling by one month, to mid-November. He also upgraded the team’s computer systems to ease the logistics that come with running a first division team, which sometimes competes in three races simultaneously.

“Cycling is a business, you can’t run it like it used to be 10 or 15 years ago,” Copeland said. “Without losing the Italian team’s roots, which are important, a new aspect and a new way of running things is good. Italians are scared of changes and don’t take them well. That’s the team idea, to bring me in and force the changes.”

The Mantova element

Copeland remains concerned about the team’s image with the continuing Mantova investigation that involves 28 individuals, including current and former Lampre staff. Last month, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) recommended a two-year ban for Alessandro Ballan, who now rides for BMC Racing. It requested the pharmacist at the center of the investigation, Guido Nigrelli, be banned for life.

The others will slowly make their way to Rome. Damiano Cunego is due to be heard December 10. Saronni, the boss, will also have his day in front of the committee’s prosecutor.

“It’s not a great image for the team,” Copeland explained. “With the Italian system, you never know how long this can go on for. It’s not great. The people involved and under investigation in this trial, we don’t want to be completely in this team. We are looking at that now.”

How Lampre will change and morph remains to be seen. The team’s concern now at Darfo Boario Terme is plotting the 2014 season. It must utilize Costa’s rainbow power and break some Italian roots.

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