Ballan to race Flanders amidst Mantova developments

BMC Racing, Lampre have received no official word on indictments in Italy

DE PANNE, Belgium (VN) — Alessandro Ballan will race for a second Tour of Flanders win Sunday in Belgium despite a facing a possible doping trial.

“Basically, there’s no new news,” BMC Racing’s general manager, Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews Thursday. “What are we doing? Nothing.”

Ballan won Flanders in 2007 after victory in the Three Days of De Panne. BMC Racing plans for him to lead its Flanders team this year with Philippe Gilbert and George Hincapie.

A doping investigation, however, may once again weigh on Ballan’s mind as he prepares for his favorite races. News broke overnight Wednesday that the prosecutor in the 2008 Mantova investigation had requested indictments for Ballan and several former Lampre riders and staff members.

Chief prosecutor Antonio Condorelli closed his preliminary investigation and requested 32 people stand trial — including Ballan, Damiano Cunego, Mauro Santambrogio, Michael Rasmussen and Giuseppe Saronni. The investigation now passes to the hands of the Preliminary Hearing Judge (GUP), who should set a hearing date in the coming three months, and will acquit or name those who will face trial.

Condorelli’s investigation centered on Guido Nigrelli’s pharmacy in Mantova, Italy. Lampre’s general manger, Saronni and his sports directors, Fabrizio Bontempi and Maurizio Piovani are said to have encouraged their riders to visit Nigrelli in 2008 and 2009.

“None of our managers or sports directors have received any official notice,” Lampre’s press officer, Andrea Appiani told VeloNews this morning. “Everything we’ve heard so far has been from the press.”

Ballan won Flanders in 2007 and the road race world championship in 2008 while contracted with Lampre. He signed with BMC Racing for the start of the 2010 season. BMC has suspended him twice, in early April 2010 and last May, because of the investigation. Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported last year that Ballan used human growth hormone, blood transfusions and Erythropoietin (EPO) in 2009.

The 32-year-old left his team in Belgium to travel home to Castelfranco Veneto, Italy, yesterday after receiving news that his father-in-law died of a heart attack. Ochowicz said that he is due to travel back to Belgium tomorrow in preparation for Flanders. He’ll race for the third year with the weight of Mantova on his shoulders.

“We haven’t been notified by anything by anybody,” Ochowicz said. “Of course [it’s frustrating for him], as it would be for anybody. Anyone involved in that situation wouldn’t be happy.”

VeloNews was unable to reach Santambrogio and did not contact Ballan for this article.

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) is watching the situation closely. Chief prosecutor Ettore Torri already has the investigator’s documents and may request sporting sanctions based on the outcome of the trial.