The doctor’s defence

Doctor Michele Ferrari tells Al Jazeera’s Lee Wellings he did not dope cyclist Lance Armstrong.

A question I am being asked about Michele Ferrari, the notorious Italian physician banned for life by the U.S anti-doping agency, is why did he agree to speak?

Well it wasn’t easy or straightforward and it was legally sensitive, but let me throw the question back.

Why wouldn’t he agree to speak?

Since USADA (United States anti-doping agency) named him 480 times in their damning 200 page dossier on doping, Ferrari’s name is out there as the doctor whose doping techniques were used by Lance Armstrong and his team mates – helping the Texan dominate cycling with seven Tour de France victories from 1999 to 2005.

Eleven of Armstrong’s former teammates at the US Postal team gave witness testimonies to USADA and the document includes the line: ‘Dr. Ferrari was present and assisted during instances of prohibited blood doping and EPO use by USPS team members.’

So with this level of accusation directed at Michele Ferrari, how much more of his reputation has he got to lose?

I felt it was important to hear his version of events, his truth. He can’t just be a bogeyman on whom cycling’s many ills can be blamed.

This is a sport so sick that leading doping expert Michael Ashenden told me this month that ‘NO Tour de France winner can stand up and say I’m Clean’ until the sport adopts the radical shake-up being proposed by ‘Change Cycling Now’, a new organisation with a range of influential people from the sport.

We shouldn’t misunderstand Ashenden – he is not trying to accuse recent winners directly. That’s not the point of Change Cycling Now. But he does insist that everything is discredited until the sport changes its leaders at the Governing Body (the UCI) and that’s something that’s difficult to dispute. On their watch the wheels have come off.

Ferrari spoke to me in his hometown Ferrara in northern Italy, where he studied and eventually developed his expertise in sports physiology.

He denies the accusations against him: “I’ve never seen any doping practice from Lance Armstrong. I can say I’ve never seen, I never heard something about that. He never asked me for information about doping. My relationship with some teammates of Lance Armstrong was very, very short and occasional. It was not strict. There are six riders that accused me, but these riders, I didn’t have any relationship, any consulting with these guys”.

Why would USADA pick on you, I asked Ferrari.

“The Federal Investigation was able to demonstrate their doping practice, and to save themselves the witnesses agreed with the USADA conspiracy. There is no evidence, no smoking gun about the investigations.”

The eye witness accounts of Ferrari organising doping of the US Postal team are numerous and damning. He is also subject to an ongoing two and a half year doping investigation in his home region of Padua (not the Armstrong case). Doping is a criminal offence in Italy.

But having not been convicted, ‘no smoking gun as he calls it’ by anyone, and with the man he is said to have facilitated – Armstrong – having never officially failed a test, you can see why there is at least room for denial.

And in fact he goes further – when I play ‘devil’s advocate’ and ask if people should be allowed to dope (as so many in cycling have chosen to) Ferrari gives an emphatic no: “I don’t agree with this liberalisation which has been suggested by some because I believe that there must be limits, within which we have to stay to protect the health of athletes”.

Mention Ferrari’s name to those in cycling with reputations intact and they will react like Greg LeMond, three times a Tour winner (’86, ’89,’90) and seen as a saviour of the sport. LeMond gives a rueful smile, “When I heard he was working with Lance Armstrong I was devastated”, says the Californian.

“I think it’s incredibly damaging, Dr Ferrari has been in practice since the 1980s… and it was widely known when I was racing, the people who were with him, there was a dramatic difference in performance. It all has to do with financial gain and cheating, and Dr Ferrari is well known to be a master at doping.”

If he’s not a doper, what exactly does Ferrari do?

“My job consists essentially, I would like to say exclusively, of advising athletes of the best way to train and proposing to these athletes alternatives – perfectly legal alternatives – to the use of doping substances. High altitude training for instance rather than using Erythroprotein (EPO) but, not only this also the use of nutrition in a targeted way.”

I hope people listen to what he has to say and make up their own mind.

And I hope they are pleased he has actually had a say…

In my interviews and research into doping one thing has been proven time and again. That intelligence…information…whistle blowing…is what the authorities rely on. The actual testing have been cycled around. It’s about people literally talking. Speaking up.

Dr Michele Ferrari was encouraged to speak and I am thankful we have now heard from the accused, as well as his substantial number of accusers.

To watch Lee Wellings’ interview with Dr Michele Ferrari click here

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