Despite a ban from the Italian national team, three cyclists went ahead and raced the World Championships at the weekend. Alessandro Ballan, Daniele Pietropolli and Alessandro Petacchi raced in the team time trials yesterday in Valkenburg, Netherlands, with their trade squads.
Italy’s sports director, Paolo Bettini wanted to include Ballan in the road team for next Sunday. However, a ban in place since last year excludes riders who have served bans of six months or more, or who have ties in to doping investigations.
“Look, I’ll give you an example,” Bettini told Cycling Weekly when asked if he was in favour of such a ban. “For some years now, the Grand Tour organisers have asked the teams to not bring riders who may create problems or embarrass the race. I ask myself, why should the organiser have to do this and why don’t the national federations already step in?”
Prosecutors have named Ballan and Pietropolli in the Mantova investigation, with hearings scheduled for December 11. Petacchi served a nine-month for excessive use of the asthma inhaler Salbutamol during the 2007 Giro d’Italia. Last year, in a separate investigation, he was accused of using synthetic blood Perfluorocarbon (PFC) and human serum albumin in 2009.
The Italian cycling federation (FCI) stopped them from racing in the national team, but is unable to do so on a larger scale. BMC Racing fielded Ballan, and Lampre brought Petacchi and Pietropolli in their six-man teams. Under Union Cycliste International (UCI) rules, they are free to race.
BMC Racing’s general manager, Jim Ochowicz told Cycling Weekly in April that until they have received official word from Italy that the team will “do nothing” to stop Ballan. The investigation has gone on for more than two years.
Team Italy wish to avoid any embarrassing situations like the 2008 Olympics. Davide Rebellin lost his silver medal after testing positive for EPO.
“First you have to show you have form to make the team,” FCI president, Renato Di Rocco told Cycling Weekly.
Ballan and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) made the grade, but were prohibited from joining the team. Di Rocco said that there is sufficient evidence on them to warrant their exclusion from the team and from wearing the special azzurra jersey.
“I want the maglia azzurra to mean something,” Di Rocco explained. “It’s an important symbol for cyclists and we want them to merit it.”
Ballan’s only taste of the Worlds was yesterday. He will watch the rest of the events from home with Visconti and company.