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Earthquakes give Lampre respite from Mantova doping case

MILAN (VN) — Mother Nature provided Lampre general manager Giuseppe Saronni and many current and former riders respite from the Mantova doping case. Due to earthquakes earlier this year, and a backlog of cases, the court has been forced to delay hearings until January.

Judge Gianfranco Villanito had planned to hear the case December 11, having already postponed the case due to paperwork errors on July 13.

But after a series of earthquakes rocked the Emilia Romagna region from May 20 to June 6, causing 26 deaths and damage throughout Mantova’s province and neighboring Modena province, a subsequent “earthquake degree” postponed 1000 criminal and 4000 civil hearings in favor of urgent cases.

Lampre’s footing has been unstable since 2010 due to the work of Mantova public prosecutor Antonio Condorelli. His investigation, now heading into its preliminary hearing phase, involves 31 individuals, including Saronni; sports directors Maurizio Piovani and Fabrizio Bontempi; and 19 cyclists, among them Alessandro Ballan, Marzio Bruseghin, Damiano Cunego and Mauro Santambrogio.

Condorelli targeted Guido Nigrelli’s pharmacy in Mantova. Saronni and staff members allegedly urged Lampre riders to visit Nigrelli for prohibited products, such as EPO and human growth hormone, during 2008-09.

The investigation has already caused waves. Saronni left Piovani, Bontempi and masseur Fabio Della Torre off the 2011 Giro d’Italia team. BMC Racing benched Ballan and Santambrogio on a couple of occasions. The team also passed on renewing Santambrogio’s contract this winter; he since has joined the second-division team Vini Fantini. And Team Italy refuses to field riders from this and other ongoing investigations.

Once such in nearby Padua is due to close soon and entangles Lampre’s top stage racer, Michele Scarponi. The team temporarily suspended Scarponi, who met with the banned doctor Michele Ferrari on at least a couple of occasions. Last month, the Italian Olympic committee called Scarponi in to explain himself. Its chief prosecutor, Ettore Torri, recommended a three-month ban, but the Italian anti-doping tribunal (TNA) may suggest a longer period due to Scarponi’s Operación Puerto ties and resulting 18-month ban.

Lampre is making several changes in the face of the brewing storm. It welcomed former Giro d’Italia director Angelo Zomegnan as senior adviser and former classics star Michele Bartoli as coach. It also applied to and received membership on Friday in the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC). The movement requires its member teams follow stricter anti-doing rules.

Despite the moves, Saronni and company must brace themselves for the eventual hearings and fallout. Lawyers for Italy’s anti-narcotics group (NAS) will present their case for the 31 individuals to stand trial, which may crush Italy’s long-running team.

The 31 individuals involved:

Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing)

Marco Bandiera (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Emanuele Bindi (Meridiana Kamen)

Paolo Bossoni (retired, was with Lampre)

Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar)

Pietro Caucchioli (retired; was with Lampre)

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD)

Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas-Cannondale)

Francesco Gavazzi (Astana)

Sebastian Gilmozzi (MTB)

Mirco Lorenzetto (retired; Lampre, Astana)

Manuele Mori (Lampre-ISD)

Massimiliano Mori (retired, was with Lampre)

Mariano Piccoli (retired, was with Lampre)

Daniele Pietropolli (Lampre-ISD)

Simone Ponzi (Astana)

Michael Rasmussen (Christina Watches-Onfone)

Mauro Santambrogio (BMC Racing)

Francesco Tomei (retired; was with Lampre)

Giuseppe Saronni (Lampre general manager)

Fabrizio Bontempi (Lampre DS)

Maurizio Piovani (Lampre DS)

Guido Nigrelli (“Barba,” owner of the pharmacy)

Sergio Gelati (doctor, Nigrelli’s main helper)

Fiorenzo Bonazzi (doctor, worked with Nigrelli)

Fabio Della Torre (Lampre masseur)

José Ibarguren Taus (Omega Pharma doctor)

Nicola Castrini (MTB rider, accused of dealing for Nigrelli)

Roberto Messina (accused of dealing for Nigrelli)

Paolo Pezzini (physical therapist with Lampre, accused of dealing for Nigrelli)

Matteo Zambroni (footballer, accused of dealing for Nigrelli)