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MILAN (AFP) — Investigators probing Lance Armstrong’s former trainer now have evidence linking former Giro d’Italia winners Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Denis Menchov (Katusha) to Michele Ferrari, according to reports Friday.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has already handed Ferrari a lifetime ban for his role in what it termed the biggest doping program in cycling history. However, the ongoing probe into an elaborate doping network run by Ferrari has reportedly allowed investigators to simultaneously discover business dealings and money laundering activities spread across several European countries.
Gazzetta dello Sport reported on Thursday that the probe into the “Ferrari System” had opened a “Pandora’s box” of illicit dealings worth millions that involved cyclists, sports agents, and bank managers.
Friday’s edition of the Italian newspaper singled out Scarponi and Menchov, although it added that the investigation had turned up evidence on Ferrari and “many other riders,” as well as athletes from other sports.
The report said both riders could now face bans for breaking rules on consulting the doctor, who is banned from operating in Italy. Italian Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) recently served a three-month ban for admitting to having visited Ferrari.
According to the report, on September 27, 2010, a bug placed on a camper van used by the Italian doctor to test and advise athletes overheard Scarponi discussing doping methods with Ferrari near a motorway exit in northern Italy.
Scarponi, who had finished fourth overall in the Giro d’Italia that year, is alleged to have told Ferrari, “I could have won the Giro,” to which Ferrari allegedly replied, “If you had a bag of blood.”
Scarponi, now with Lampre, won the Giro d’Italia a year later after Alberto Contador’s clenbuterol case saw the UCI vacate his title.
In a statement, the Italian admitted meeting with Ferrari. “The truth is: in September 2010, on my own initiative, I carried out an episodic test, divided into two parts on two different days, in the presence of Dr. Ferrari,” Scarponi said.
But he claimed the Gazzetta report contained “false claims on which I have to take a stand to protect my image and the reputation of my sponsors.”
Scarponi said by the time he joined Lampre months later, he had “totally entrusted” his training program to the staff at the Mapei center for training in Italy.
The report added that, “according to investigators,” 2009 Giro champion Denis Menchov, who at the time rode for the Dutch team Rabobank, also “made use of Ferrari’s advice.” Menchov also won the Vuelta a España in 2005 and 2007.
Investigators collected the evidence on Menchov, according to the report, from a phone call intercepted on September 19, 2010, during which Menchov is alleged to have told sports agent Raimondo Scimone, “I want all the riders working with me to be followed by Ferrari.”
The Russian, who now rides with Katusha, has not won a grand tour since his Giro victory in 2009, but finished runner-up in the 2010 Tour de France (after Contador lost his win in that race).
Scimone is one of several people, along with Ferrari, his son Stefano, two Swiss bank managers from Lucerne and Neuchatel and a Swiss lawyer, Rocco Taminelli, being investigated by Padua magistrate Benedetto Roberti. They face charges of conspiracy to smuggle, trade, administer and take performance enhancing drugs, as well as charges of tax evasion and money laundering.
On Friday, La Gazzetta published a denial from Scimone.
“I have never had anything to do with the training of my riders or any others and I have never had any contact with the world of doping,” he told the paper. “They may be under investigation by Padua prosecutors, but I refute any claims that I have violated anti-doping laws. The investigation has not revealed any elements, even circumstantial, suggesting I have violated or facilitated violating the anti-doping rules.”
Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (Finance Police) is also involved in the investigation, which is due to wrap up later this month.