Danilo Di Luca, banned for life last year for doping, could be an unlikely hero in the battle against drugs cheats after reportedly providing “the most valuable testimony ever received” in an anti-doping investigation.
Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport claims evidence Di Luca provided in Italy in late 2009 led directly to increased cross-border co-operation between anti-doping and law enforcement agencies, as well as the investigation that brought down Lance Armstrong.
Details of Di Luca’s dealings with Padua-based public prosecutor Benedetto Roberti are contained in a 550-page document that has now been sent to Italian Olympic Committee CONI, which has also forwarded details to the UCI in connection with the review of Astana’s WorldTour licence.
The cyclist’s testimony was provided at the end of a year in which the 38-year-old finished second overall at the Giro d’Italia and won the points competition, but was then disqualified after testing positive for EPO.
The two year ban he received for that was subsequently reduced to nine months for the co-operation he gave to the anti-doping authorities – the full extent of which is only now becoming apparent, if La Gazzetta dello Sport’s report is true.
It says the document sent to CONI sets out the evidence gathered during an investigation lasting nearly five years centred on Doctor Michele Ferrari, banned since 2002 from working with cyclists in Italy and, since 2012, from any involvement in sport anywhere in the world.
Earlier this week, the newspaper said that investigators working on the Padua probe had photographed Astana riders in conversation with Ferrari at a training camp in November last year – a claim the doctor has described as “media bullshit.”
The UCI had been due to announce the decision of its Licence Commission’s investigation into Astana’s management and anti-doping procedures today, but yesterday evening its president, Brian Cookson, said it could take some time for it to sift through the latest information from CONI in order for it to make a considered judgment.
Among dozens of current and former riders said by La Gazzetta dello Sport to be named in the Padua investigation’s report are Astana’s general manager Alexandre Vinokourov, current team member Michele Scarponi, and former rider Roman Kreuziger.
For Di Luca’s part, his collaboration with investigators in late 2009 did not represent a turning point in his career with respect to using performance-enhancing drugs; he tested positive for EPO again during the 2013 Giro d’Italia, and a year ago last week was handed a lifetime ban.
Di Luca, who had ridden the 2013 Giro with Vini Fantini-Selle Italia, reacted to that ban with the words: “It was all already written. Clearly I have to pay for everyone else.”
But with names now beginning to come out, there could be a day of reckoning looming for others too.
Among those are Scarponi , awarded the overall victory in the 2011 Giro d’Italia after Alberto Contador was stripped of it, and former Italian champion and multiple Grand Tour stage winner Giovanni Visconti of Movistar.
Both, together with Filippo Pozzato, have already served three month bans for associating with Ferrari, but according to La Gazzetta dello Sport could be looking at more severe sanctions in the light of new evidence.
The Padua investigation, led by Roberti, has also involved officers from Carabinieri units focused on drug-related crime as well as ones from the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s police force specialising in financial and tax matters.
Its primary aim has been to unravel the international network behind Ferrari’s activities including, as reported by La Gazzetta dello Sport in 2012, claimed money laundering, falsified contracts and tax evasion, with both professional and amateur cyclists – the latter said to include a police officer – among his clients.
Di Luca is reported to have been the first to reveal the scale of Ferrari’s operations in places including Saint Moritz in Switzerland and Mount Teide on Tenerife, as well as the procedures that took place there including banned blood transfusions.
The investigation has also relied heavily on the use of intercepted telephone conversations, despite what it says are precautions taken by many of those claimed to be involved to cover their tracks through, for example, use of multiple mobile phone, public call boxes, and even encrypted VoIP conversations.
It was intercepted conversations between Scarponi and Ferrari that led the rider, then with Lampre, to admit he had trained under Ferrari’s supervision.
Meanwhile Visconti was recorded on two separate occasions speaking with him inside the doctor’s camper van, with investigators saying the pair were clearly speaking about doping techniques and changes in blood values.
Other riders reported by the newspaper as being identified in the dossier handed to CONI include Denis Menchov, said to have paid Ferrari €50,000 a year, Marco Marcato – the first time his name has been linked to the Padua investigation – and Alexander Kolobnev.
As for Astana, investigators reportedly claim that “Vinokourov is one of Ferrari’s historic men. Ferrari follows almost all of the Kazakh team.”
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, that means 17 of its riders, including Valentin Iglinskiy, who confessed to EPO use this year after returning the first of the five positive tests, three of them among riders in its development squad, that have emerged over the past couple of months.
The newspaper adds, “for the avoidance of doubt,” that the name of Astana rider and Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali, “is completely extraneous to this investigation.”
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