Ahh Spring, the promise of flowers, women in tight, short dresses and the Mantova doping investigation. For each of the last three Springs, right around the time of Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d’Italia, the dormant and glacial Mantova story pops up with a flurry of noise and lack of consequences.
Three seasons ago, Mantova — which must be Italian for “moronic joke” — made big headlines — Allessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego on drugs! Team-wide Lampre drug scandal. The evidence was overwhelming, even a cell phone recording of Ballan discussing growth hormone with pharmacist Guido Nigrelli. BMC racing, Ballan’s new team, plays it safe and pulls their classics leader from Paris-Roubaix.
Then the defining silence, a big nothing, Mantova disappears for another year. BMC eventually puts Ballan back in the lineup, end of story but not really, not by a long shot.
On year later in 2011, it’s Spring again and the Mantova investigators wake up from their eleven month slumber. Ballan to be indicted, huge drug ring, many implicated, suspensions inevitable, Ballan guilt as sin! Only this time, BMC team owner Jim Ochowicz is sick of the bullshit and refuses to pull Ballan from Paris-Roubaix. Then in early May, with Mantova rumors till flying, the team is forced to park Ballan who misses his home tour, the Giro d’Italia.
The Mantova storm then blows over, silence, void, a colossal waste of everyone’s time and energy. Ballan re-stated and BMC management irritated beyond words.
So here we are a year year later, heading into Flanders and Roubaix. The flowers are coming out and Spring is almost here and Mantova once again, like clockwork, hits the cycling news with tales of syringes and secret sauce and evil doings. 32 riders are are suspicion — hey, we’ve had two years of suspicion — and supposedly a final decision will be made about who is to be tried or absolved.
BMC racing stand firmly behind Ballan and has no plans to pull him a third time. Why should they? Jim Ochowicz has issued the following statement. “We will take no action regarding Alessandro Ballan or Mauro Santambrogio unless we receive an official request to do so from an appropriate authority (i.e., WADA, UCI, CONI or the Italian Cycling Federation). The alternative version is something like, “you guys are bozos and we’re sick of playing this idiotic game.”
Almost one year ago, the BMC boss looked at the Mantova allegations and said “I don’t know if they’re true or false, I can’t tell you, and I’m not sure anybody else can at this point.” Not much has changed on that front.
That was last Spring but not to worry, the Italian authorities have promised a decision on who to bring to trial in three to four months. Then throw in some delays and postponements before the inevitable silence takes over.
Chances are we won’t hear about Mantova again until sometime next Spring.