Four years after the ‘Operazione Athena’ began, former Vuelta a España stage winner Luca Paolini and 28 others have been charged in relation to a doping network and will face trial in Bergamo, northern Italy.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, a first hearing will take place on May 7th, with the full trial due to start eighteen days later.
Also charged are the retired rider Eddy Mazzoleni, third in the 2007 Giro d’Italia, and his wife Elisa Basso. She is the sister of Ivan Basso, who is not himself implicated in the affair.
Operacion Athena began with the aim of curbing doping products in fitness centres in Como and Bergamo. Investigators seized drugs and evidence worth six million euro, including several types of anabolic steroids, ephedrine, amphetamines, growth hormone, EPO and gonadotrophin.
Paolini faces charges of buying and taking drugs, including the banned blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO), as well as receiving stolen goods. The crimes date back to July 2005. His home was searched shortly before he competed in the world championships in Salzburg in September 2006, where he helped Paolo Bettini take the rainbow jersey.
Apart from his Vuelta stage win, he took third in the 2007 Tour of Flanders while racing with Liquigas. He moved to Acqua & Sapone for the 2008 season and since then he has taken wins in the Trofeo Laigueglia, Coppa Placci and Coppa Bernocchi, as well as taking the points classification in the 2010 Three Days of De Panne.
Elisa Basso is accused of dealing in illicit drugs and doping substances.
Mazzoleni quit the sport in the spring of 2008 following the imposition of a two-year ban that related to the separate Oil for Drugs inquiry. He has since gone into the restaurant business.