Cycling: Top Italian rider the latest to fall

Giro winner Scarponi is forced off Lampre team after admitting contact with controversial doctor.

Michele Scarponi says he acted in good faith but accepts the suspension. Photo / Fabio Ferrari
Michele Scarponi says he acted in good faith but accepts the suspension. Photo / Fabio Ferrari

The Lampre team have suspended Italian rider Michele Scarponi, winner of the 2011 Giro d'Italia, the second-most prestigious stage race in cycling, for contacts with controversial doctor Michele Ferrari, banned for life following a US doping investigation.

"We have followed our internal medical procedure and Michele has been suspended by the team doctor Carlo Guardascione," Lampre's press attache told cyclingnews.com.

"The suspension started on October 25, when Michele published a statement" acknowledging having a medical test with Ferrari present.

"We will not impose a definitive punishment until the end of the disciplinary procedure."

The Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Scarponi made a statement to magistrates at the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) who are investigating doping - CONI in 2002 banned Italian athletes from having any contact with Ferrari.

It replicated the one he had made last week as reported by the same newspaper.

"The truth is: in September 2010, on my own initiative, I carried out an episodic test, divided into two parts on two different days, in the presence of Dr Ferrari."

In further comments he said: "I was convinced Dr Ferrari was not the subject of any ban [on contact with athletes] and so I acted in good faith ... I have myself accepted the disciplinary procedure and have myself asked to clarify my position as quickly as possible in the interests of my team."

Scarponi, who was suspended for 18 months in 2007 following the Operation Puerto scandal, now faces further censure for meeting Ferrari, and widely thought to be at the forefront of EPO and blood doping in cycling. CONI has already handed a three-month ban to Filippo Pozzato in a similar case - though prosecutors had called for a one-year ban.

Ferrari was handed a lifetime ban by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) for his role in what it termed as the biggest doping programme in sporting history as it destroyed the sporting reputation of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, now stripped of his titles.

An ongoing probe into an elaborate doping network run by Ferrari has reportedly allowed investigators to simultaneously discover a world of shady business dealings and money laundering spread across several European countries.

Gazzetta dello Sport last week said the probe into the "Ferrari System" had opened a "Pandora's box" of illicit dealings worth millions involving cyclists, sports agents and bank managers.

According to the report Scarponi was heard, on September 27, 2010, discussing doping methods thanks to a bug placed on a campervan used by the Italian doctor to test and advise athletes near a motorway exit in northern Italy.

Scarponi, who had finished fourth overall in the Giro d'Italia that year, is alleged to have told Ferrari "I could have won the Giro", to which Ferrari allegedly replied: "If you had a bag of blood." Scarponi, now with Lampre, won the Giro d'Italia a year later.

While admitting meeting Ferrari he claims the Gazzetta report contained "false claims on which I have to take a stand to protect my image".

-AFP

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