Ricco loves Pantani, but not doping claims
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ricco loves Pantani, but not doping claims

by Agence France-Presse at 4:27 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Doping
Italian Riccardo Ricco has pleaded to be left alone following days of reports which claim he could be among several cyclists to be targeted by the anti-doping authorities.

Ricco claimed his second victory win on the Tour de France inside four days here on Sunday when he triumphed on the mammoth 224km ninth stage, the first of three to be held in the Pyrenees.

But the 24-year-old Italian, who cites deceased Italian icon Marco Pantani as his idol though he was plagued by drugs scandals in his latter years as a professional, said he is getting fed up of reports claiming he is one of several riders to have aroused suspicion at the French Anti-Doping body (AFLD) which is carrying out all the controls at the race.

"I'm not angry. I'm just disappointed," Ricco said of the reports following his victory on the ninth stage which took in two first category climbs. "I know I have nothing to worry about. My blood values are high, but for me they are totally normal because I've had them since I was a child.

"The International Cycling Union (UCI) know that and I have a certificate from the UCI to prove that they are naturally high." Ricco is reported to have a naturally high haematocrit level of over 50, meaning the volume of oxygen-rich red blood cells in his blood is higher than the norm.

The UCI introduced a 'legal' limit of 50 for cyclists in 1999, after many cyclists and endurance athletes were found to be using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) in dangerous proportions.

EPO and other blood boosting drugs increase the volume of red blood cells, pumping more oxygen into the blood and therefore allowing athletes to work harder and longer.

Haematocrit is widely cited as the principal parameter measured in doping analyses, although scientists now also look at other readings such as haemoglobin (an oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells), reticulocytes (young blood cells) and by employing the 'off-score' test.

The off-score test has become a crucial weapon in the anti-doping armoury which takes into account both mean (or average) levels of haemoglobin and reticulocytes.

The Tour's first doping case erupted on Friday, when it was revealed that a urine sample from Spaniard Manuel Beltran of Liquigas had tested positive for EPO.

The AFLD carried out the urine test sample after being alerted by a suspect reading in a blood sample taken before the race.

The AFLD had said they would be specifically targeting several riders because of "worrying" parameters in some of the 180 blood samples taken from the peloton on July 3 and 4.

However the anti-doping body ultimately admitted the readings did not necessarily show proof of doping.

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