Lampre shifts gears ahead of Mantova storm

With the Mantova case looming, Lampre shifts its rider and staff line-up, hiring former Giro director Angelo Zomegnan as an advisor

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MILAN (VN) — Lampre’s Giuseppe Saronni is re-structuring his team ahead of the Mantova storm and the 2013 season.

The long-running Italian squad faces choppy seas as several current and former staff members and riders are to be called in a doping investigation, with hearings beginning December 11. Nonetheless, it welcomed former Giro d’Italia director Angelo Zomegnan as senior advisor on Tuesday.

Saronni, the team’s general manager, said in a press release, “The season’s goals are numerous and important, but I’m certain that we’ve selected the right person to help us achieve those goals.”

Lampre scraped the bottom of the barrel this season, finishing 17th of 18 first division teams in the rankings and 14th on UCI WorldTour points. Diego Ulissi, 23, picked up three wins, with only four others coming from the team’s old hands, Alessandro Petacchi and Damiano Cunego.

Lampre ranked in the top 15 of the UCI’s sporting criterion list published on October 29. With a valid first division license for 2013, it should receive the ok early next month to race in the WorldTour. The governing body will ensure the team meets its ethical, financial and administrative criteria – with the first criterion being called into question.

Saronni knows that Lampre stands on shaky ground. A doping investigation in Mantova, the team’s base, east of Milan, is about to head into its preliminary hearing phase. It involves 31 individuals, including Saronni, sports directors Maurizio Piovani and Fabrizio Bontempi, and 19 riders, including Cunego and former Lampre riders Alessandro Ballan and Marzio Bruseghin.

Prosecutor Antonio Condorelli’s case focuses on Guido Nigrelli’s pharmacy in Mantova. Saronni and Lampre’s staff allegedly encouraged their riders to visit Nigrelli for prohibited products, such as EPO and human growth hormones, in 2008 and 2009. The investigation has forced BMC Racing to bench Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio on multiple occasions and Saronni to leave Piovani, Bontempi and Fabio Della Torre out of the 2011 Giro d’Italia team.

Meanwhile, Lampre’s Michele Scarponi is embroiled in the Padua investigation, which centers on banned doctor Michele Ferrari. Scarponi placed second in the Giro in 2011, later winning after Alberto Contador’s disqualification. Last week, the team suspended him, given his connection to Ferrari. Saronni is waiting for the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) to rule on the case before he considers firing Scarponi.

“It’s harmful for us,” Saronni told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We’ve found ourselves indirectly involved; it doesn’t concern us, but we can’t ignore it.”

Scarponi allegedly visited Ferrari two times in 2010 while he was still contracted with the Androni team. Saronni hired Scarponi in 2011, after his third season back from a ban resulting from his role in the Operacion Puerto scandal.

While Scarponi’s alleged indiscretions occurred before his tenure at Lampre, the team faces a direct hit on December 11 when lawyers for Italy’s Anti-Narcotics Group (NAS) will present their case for the 31 individuals, including Saronni, to stand trial.

Zomegnan is thus entering when the situation seems to be at its worse. He will steer Lampre’s PR and marketing campaign as the team enters its 20th season.

As Zomegnan boards the listing ship, the team pushes Roberto Damiani out. Lampre signed him as sport manager after he helped Cadel Evans at Lotto. He accepted more responsibilities as Saronni was dragged into the Mantova investigation, but now faces backlash. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Petacchi, Cunego, Scarponi and other riders (not Ulissi and Adriano Malori) have signed a letter asking the team to dismiss Damiani. It is unknown where Lampre will stand in 2013 after the Mantova storm hits.

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