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Vincenzo Nibali made repeated denials during this year’s Tour de France that he had ever met Michele Ferrari, but that insistence is under the microscope today after La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the banned doctor had attended a team training camp in November 2013.
According to the Italian paper, Ferrari attended the team hotel in Montecatini Terme thirteen months ago. Unbeknownst to the team, so too did anti-doping investigators, who reportedly have photographs of the doctor talking to various members of the team.
Under CONI’s rules, anyone working with Ferrari since 2002 is liable to a suspension. In addition to that, La Gazzetta states that licence holders are obliged to inform sporting authorities if they even see Ferrari.
USADA issued a lifetime ban against the doctor in 2012 over his work with Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service team.
It has confirmed that Nibali was in attendance at the Astana training camp in question.
The newspaper hasn’t made clear where these photos will be used, whether they are simply for the ongoing Padova investigation in Italy or if copies have been presented to the UCI Licence Commission currently scrutinising the team after a spate of positive tests in recent months.
WorldTour team riders Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy both tested positive for EPO in August, while three riders with the Continental squad – namely Kazakhstan’s national champion Ilya Davidenok, Artur Fedosseyev and Victor Okishev all tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids.
Davidenok has been a stagiaire with the WorldTour team since August.
Those positives prompted the UCI to instruct its Licence Commission to examine the teams and to decide if there were grounds to take action. That commission is due to announce its findings this week, and could in theory refuse to give Astana a licence for 2015.
General manager Alexandre Vinokourov has said that the Continental team has been put on hold, but hasn’t made clear if it could restart.
Today’s claim that Ferrari met team members in November last year is a further blow to the team’s prospects.
The news comes days after a report in La Repubblica claimed that there was a link between Ferrari and the Astana team.
It said that various members of the team were implicated by the four year Padova investigation, which has been handed over to the Italian Olympic Committee CONI. The report runs to 550 pages and apparently includes the names of a large number of current and former riders.
Banned race walker Alex Schwarzer has cooperated with investigators after his own positive test and has reportedly implicated others.
He said that when he met Ferrari on Mount Teide in the Canary islands in 2010, that he saw a sheet of paper with Ferrari’s handwriting mentioning the names of Stefano Garzelli, Francesco Masciarelli and Leonardo Bertagnolli on it. In addition to that, he said he personally saw those riders at the hotel too.
Current and former Astana riders Michele Scarponi, Enrico Gasparotto, Vladimir Gusev and Evgeni Petrov himself have all been linked to Ferrari by investigations. As for Vinokourov, he worked with the banned doctor in the past. The now-retired rider admitted in a press conference prior to the start of the 2007 Tour de France that he used the doctor as his coach.
He insisted that there was nothing untoward about their dealings, but he tested positive for a banned blood transfusion in that race and was handed a two year ban.
According to La Gazzetta, 90 riders are named in the Padova report, including some who were previously unsuspected. It adds that links between Nibali and Ferrari haven’t been found.
Those 90 names may take time to emerge, but Astana’s future vis-à-vis the UCI WorldTour licence will become clearer in the coming days.
If photos do indeed prove the team was visited by Ferrari, the chances of remaining within the top division of the sport are looking very shaky indeed.