Public prosecutors in Italy are reported to have photographic proof that the banned doctor Michele Ferrari attended one of Astana’s training camps in November last year. The claim, hwich Ferrari has described as "media bullshit," comes at the start of a week in which the UCI is due to decide whether to grant Astana a WorldTour licence for next season.
La Gazzetta dello Sport says that investigators working on behalf of an criminal inquiry into doping that has been overseen from Padua since 2010 by public prosecutor Benedetto Roberti photographed Ferrari in November 2013 outside a hotel where the Kazakh team was holding a pre-season training camp.
It adds that photographs show the doctor speaking with a number of riders who were present at the camp in the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini Terme.
The 61-year-old doctor has been banned from working with professional cyclists in Italy since 2002 and in 2012 was handed a worldwide lifetime ban following the investigation into doping at the former US Postal Service team by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
During November 2013, the same month that Ferrari is reported to have attended the Astana training camp, Armstrong, in written testimony given under oath, admitted for the first time that the doctor had supplied him with performance enhancing drugs.
In October 2012, Michele Scarponi, then with Lampre-Merida, admitted that he had trained under Ferrari’s supervision in late 2010. The following May, Scarponi came second in the Giro d’Italia to Alberto Contador, and was later given the overall title when the Spaniard was stripped of his title.
Scarponi received a three-month ban as a result of his association with Ferrari, and on his return to the sport in early 2013 signed with Astana.
In July this year, he was a key member of the team that supported Vincenzo Nibali’s Tour de France victory, as was Maxim Iglinskiy, sacked by the team in October after it emerged he had tested positive for EPO a week after the Tour de France finished.
Nibali himself said following his Tour de France victory that he considered doping an “abomination” and something that needed to be “eradicated” from the sport.
Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Luca Gialanella says that Roberti has sent a file on Ferrari’s presence at the training camp to CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, which is responsible for pursuing alleged doping cases from a sporting aspect.
But the journalist says if there is one crumb of comfort in the file, it is that there is no mention “of a relationship between Nibali and Ferrari,” and that “there has never been any contact between the rider and the doctor.”
News of Maxim Iglinskiy’s failed doping control emerged shortly after the Kazakh rider’s brother Valentin had confessed to using EPO.
A subsequent positive test for steroids by Ilya Davidenok, a rider for the Astana Under-23 squad who was taken on in August as a stagiaire with the senior outfit, prompted the UCI to order its Licence Commission to review Astana’s management and anti-doping policies.
Two further positive tests for steroids by riders of the development squad led general manager Alexandre Vinokourov to suspend it from racing, and have given rise to heightened speculation that the UCI may not grant Astana a WorldTour licence for next year.
Vinokourov himself was banned after testing positive for an illegal blood transfusion during the 2007 Tour de France.
In USADA’s reasoned decision in the Armstrong case, published in October 2012, Levi Leipheimer admitted in a sworn statement that he had attended a 2005 training camp held by Ferrari on Tenerife where other riders present included Vinokourov, the current Olympic road champion.
USADA also said in its reasoned decision that “Health and Performance accounting records confirm Vinokourov was a paying client of Dr. Ferrari.”
Responding to the Gazzetta dello Sport's article on his 53x12 website, Ferrari said the newspaper's claims were "media bullshit" and that he had visited Montecatini Terme "if I remember correctly, in 1994 to taste the famous waffles," but not last November.
He said that "whoever has published it [the allegations] will respond about it in the appropriate courts: I hope that the Kazakh team will ask adequate compensation for the damages."
Ferrari went on to point out what he called "extraordinarily confusing statements," in the newspaper including "claims that I am living between Lugano and Ferrara."
Previously, the newspaper has reported that the Padua investgation has explored links between Ferrari and banks as well as a clinic in the Swiss town of Lugano, but he insists "I never even stopped in Lugano, nor have a study or home in that location."
He did concede, "Up to a few years ago I coached some of the Astana athletes, including Vinokurov: it has never been a secret, we never hid anything, we attended training venues where there were many other athletes, all in broad daylight."
But, he added, "Curiously Teide or St. Moritz, back then 'suspicious' locations as defined by the very UCI, have now been "cleared" and are more popular than ever with cyclists and teams above any suspicion ..."
Nibali has repeatedly insisted he is committed to riding for Astana, that the Iglinskiy brothers are an isolated case operating outside the team, and that the Under-23 development squad is entirely separate to the senior team.
He has also said he is confident that Astana will receive a WorldTour licence for the 2015 season – something that the latest news from Italy must cast serious doubt on.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.