“Paging Dr. Ferrari” | Bicycling Jan/Feb 2006
For the past two decades, when cycling’s greatest racers have needed that last bit of speed to turn themselves into legends, they’ve called for one man: Michele Ferrari, who is either the sport’s most brilliant and innovative scientists or one of cycling’s most insidious doping experts or, more troubling, both.
As Michele Ferrari walks down a crowded street in Ferrara, Italy, in bright winter sunshine, his smile is the same one you can see in the few published photos of him, in which he is sun-tanned and well-dressed, as if he’d just stepped out of La Dolce Vita. But as he draws closer, you see the smile is really just a display of teeth. Perhaps even a grimace.
He was once recognized as one of the brightest sports scientists in the history of cycling, maybe the most innovative ever, the pioneer who helped develop landmark tests that let riders pinpoint their physiological parameters so they could train harder and smarter.
But now the mere mention of his name can trigger a scandal, for 52-year-old Michele Ferrari has become a pariah in the sport he helped revolutionize.
He has worked with Francesco Moser, Tony Rominger, Mario Cipollini, Lance Armstrong and other storied cyclists to set records and win Grand Tours, Classics, and other important races. For two decades he has engineered champions. For nearly as long, he has been suspected of doping his champions, as well.
The years of allegations came to a head in October 2004, when Ferrari was convicted in Italy on two doping-related charges, for which he was fined $1,200, barred from practicing medicine, and given a suspended sentence of a year in jail, all of which he is appealing. The worst penalty, however, wasn’t imposed by the court. Within hours, his last major client and his staunchest defender, Armstrong, severed all formal ties with Ferrari, after having won six Tours de France with the doctor’s help.
His shunning was complete.