Ricco swears innocence, but sacked with Piepoli
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Ricco swears innocence, but sacked with Piepoli

by Agence France-Presse at 9:12 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Doping
Spanish cycling team Saunier Duval have sacked Italian star Riccardo Ricco following his positive doping control for EPO (erythropoietin) at the Tour de France, it was announced Friday.

Team manager Mauro Gianetti said that both Ricco and his Italian teammate Leonardo Piepoli, who was also kicked out even though he didn't test positive, had infringed the team's code of ethics. "I understand the reaction of the Tour de France and I can't help but feel let down by someone (Ricco) to whom I gave my utter confidence," said Gianetti in a team statement. "I carried out my own inquiries, which have led me to a loss of confidence not only in Ricco but also in Piepoli - both of whom have violated the team's anti-doping code."

The 24-year-old Ricco became one of the major attractions of this year's race when he stunned a host of big names to win two stages, one in the hilly Massif Central and the other, three days later, in the Pyrenees.

However Ricco's Tour finished under a police escort on Thursday following his positive test for the banned blood booster EPO after the fourth stage time trial.

The 36-year-old Piepoli won the prestigious 10th stage to the summit finish of Hautacam in the Pyrenees. The entire Saunier Duval team left the Tour of their own accord prior to Thursday's 12th stage.

Gianetti's integrity as manager of the Spanish team, following a positive test for Spanish climber Iban Mayo last year, came under attack from Tour chief Christian Prudhomme on Thursday. Prudhomme said: "... in general, I certainly don't feel that their manager is a model of virtue."

Gianetti claimed Friday he was "totally unaware of any doping practices going on in the team". He added in the team statement that he was "shocked and bitter about this sad incident". Gianetti laid the blame squarely with Ricco, and said that further inquiries had prompted him to sack Piepoli as well. "We have always paid close attention to what our riders are doing, and have always demanded an irreproachable attitude to their profession and to our code of ethics," said Gianetti. "All our riders gave us guarantees that they were clean. Ricco swore on his mother's head that he has never turned to illegal substances or means to improve his performance. "Despite all the efforts made both internally and from outside the team we have failed to avoid this deplorable situation."

The news of the double sacking emerged only minutes after Ricco appeared at a court in Foix, near the Pyrenees, to answer charges relating to his positive drugs control.

The possession, use and administering of banned substances is against French law and can be punished with a fine and a custodial sentence.

Saunier Duval meanwhile have indicated they may pull out of sponsorship of professional cycling.

Top company official Thierry Leroy told French radio station RTL on Friday: "It is highly probable that we will pull out of sponsoring cycling following this affair". Leroy said he was "disappointed and angry" and was ready to launch legal proceedings against the team if organised doping was proven.

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