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MILAN (VN) — Italy’s most notorious doctor, Michele Ferrari, visited team Astana prior to the 2014 season in which it won the Tour de France with Vincenzo Nibali, according to a new report.
“In November 2013, one year ago, at the team’s first meeting for the 2014 season … a truly special guest arrived in the evening: Michele Ferrari,” reported Italy’s sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport Monday. “That evening, stationed outside the hotel, investigators photographed Ferrari speaking with some members of the team.”
Ferrari was quick to post a denial on his website, writing, “I feel obliged, albeit very reluctantly, to once again deny the latest MEDIA BULLSH*T with regards to my presence (“during the night”, or even in broad daylight, if you prefer) at the Astana Team Training Camp in Montecatini (I’ve been in that town, if I remember correctly, in 1994 to taste the famous waffles) last year in November.”
The 61-year-old Italian from Ferrara is banned globally after being found guilty of doping cyclists over the past two decades. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) 2012 investigation into Lance Armstrong resulted in a lifetime ban for Ferrari. Its Reasoned Decision showed that he helped with EPO, blood transfusions, and other prohibited drugs and methods from 1999-2007.
In Italy, simply talking to or visiting Ferrari can result in a suspension. CONI, the country’s Olympic committee, has banned him from working with UCI-licensed cyclists since February 13, 2002.
Not only Armstrong, but Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), and others have visited the man known as “Dr. Evil.” Nibali’s Astana teammate Michele Scarponi served a three-month ban for meeting with Ferrari in 2010.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica printed an article in August 2009 with sport director Ivan Fanini, who said he had proof that Nibali trained with Ferrari. Nibali sued, the case was dropped in 2011, and Fanini paid a fine of around 4,000 euros.
Nibali was questioned about the possible Ferrari connection on his way to winning the 2014 Tour. “No,” Nibali responded, “I never met him personally.”
The news of Ferrari’s visit, however, could stop the team in turquoise from racing in 2015. The UCI is due to rule on Astana’s license to race in the WorldTour by Wednesday. The license commission is reviewing Astana’s case after five doping positives fell on the team following Nibali’s Tour de France win.
Within nearly two months’ time, brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO, and Ilya Davidenok, Victor Okishev and Artur Fedosseyev had steroids in their systems. The latter three race for Astana’s feeder, third-division team which uses the same color and name as Nibali’s team.
Based on the commission’s recommendation, the UCI could decide to refuse Astana’s license renewal and block it from seeking a second-division license. Such a move would stop the team from racing in 2015 and allow the cyclists to look elsewhere, even if few teams have space this late into the off-season.
The Kazakh team first raced in 2007. Its star rider Alexandre Vinokourov, known as “Vino,” failed a blood doping test during the 2007 Tour. He was banned for two years and returned in 2009, and later won the 2012 Olympic road race. He retired from racing at the end of that season and began managing Astana the following year.
Astana’s problems extend beyond the five recent cases to Kreuziger’s time with the team (2011-2012), Johan Bruyneel’s management (2008-2009), and doping cases like Andrey Kashechkin’s (2007).
This week, Italy’s Olympic committee will have the case file from the Padua inquiry. Public Prosecutor Benedetto Roberti, who helped in the Armstrong inquiry, investigated Ferrari and his son Stefano for the last four years. According to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Roberti passed 550 pages of evidence over to the committee in Rome.
Nibali’s name is not linked to Ferrari directly, but the pages show his team continues to work with Ferrari.
“‘Vino’ asked us to follow 12 new athletes for the next season,” La Repubblica reported Stefano Ferrari as saying.
The case file also links Nibali’s trainer. Police reported in the pages that Paolo Slongo has “frequent contact” with Ferrari.