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Vincenzo Nibali questioned about Michele Ferrari links

Previously reported links with banned doctor Michele Ferrari resurface as Vincenzo Nibali leads Tour de France

Vincenzo Nibali rode more time into his rivals the Tour de France‘s stage to Risoul on Saturday and straight into questions about Michele Ferrari from the press corps.

“No,” the Italian race leader said, “I never met him personally.”

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For many, Ferrari’s name is synonymous with doping in cycling. The Italian doctor is best known for his dealings with Lance Armstrong and has been banned from working in sport worldwide.

With past grand tour winners’ reputations dirtied from doping cases, some fans may wonder if Nibali is racing on more than just “pane ed acqua”.

Nibali told Cycling Weekly in 2010 that he does not dope or use banned methods. Astana is one of the many first division teams that joined the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC) and agreed to adhere to its tougher anti-doping rules.

Questions remain, however. Nibali faced claims that he worked with banned trainer/doctor Michele Ferrari in 2009 after he placed seventh in the Tour de France.

The Italian newspaper, La Repubblica printed an article in August that year where sports director Ivan Fanini said that he had proof that Nibali and former Liquigas team-mate Franco Pellizotti trained with Ferrari.

According to the news piece, they both trained in black, not team issue clothing, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Livigno, Italy, while Ferrari followed on his motorbike. Had it been true, it would draw a ban as Ferrari has been barred from training athletes since 2002 in Italy.

“They said that there were photographs where he was following me with a stopwatch in hand. We are talking about a few years ago, when Ivano Fanini said that to an Italian journalist [Eugenio Capodacqua],” Nibali said on Saturday.

“I sued, it went ahead for some time, but towards the end, they asked me to pull it because I was right, there was nothing. There were claims made, the photographs didn’t exist, nothing to give.”

Nibali’s lawsuit against La Repubblica, Capodacqua and Fanini was dropped in 2011 and Fanini as a fine, paid around €4000 to a charity.

Pellizotti served a two-year ban and was stripped of his polka-dot jersey from the 2009 Tour for a biological passport violation. Experts showed that his blood and urine values were abnormal and, like Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s case, indicated the rider doped.

Nibali grew into a grand tour force while the claims against him faded. He won the 2010 Vuelta a España, placed third behind Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the 2012 Tour.

In the new turquoise colours of team Astana, Nibali took the 2013 Giro d’Italia title. He appears ready to win the Tour when it ends next week, July 27, in Paris with a hefty 4-37-minute lead over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

The Ferrari system uncovered

Italian investigators reveal extent of Michele Ferrari's involvement in huge doping ring in addition to tax evasion and money laundering