Ricco being investigated for doping after apparent admission to medical doctor
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ricco being investigated for doping after apparent admission to medical doctor

by Shane Stokes at 11:30 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Rider remains in hospital after emergency weekend treatment

Riccardo RiccoControversial rider Riccardo Riccò looks to be in hot water once again, and could be facing the end of his professional career. According to reports in various Italian media, the rider has admitted to giving himself a blood transfusion. It had been stored in a refrigerator for 25 days and its poor condition is suspected as being a likely cause for his emergency hospitalisation at the weekend.

As reported yesterday, he became ill after training on Saturday and was taken to hospital in Baggiovara with suspected kidney failure. His condition then worsened and he was transferred to S. Agostino-Este. The hospital later released a statement to say that his condition had been critical but was improving; however it said that it would keep silent on his prognosis for the moment.

It is now reported that the prosecutor of Modena has opened a file for suspected violation of the anti-doping law 376/2000. La Gazzetta dello Sport states that Ricco arrived in critical condition on Sunday morning and that first aid was performed on him. According to a doctor who was present, Riccò admitted that he had done an autotransfusion of blood in the presence of his girlfriend Vania Rossi. It had been kept in the refrigerator for almost a month, and it is feared that the blood had degenerated.

Riccò previously served a lengthy ban for doping after testing positive for CERA in the 2008 Tour de France, where he took two stages. Rossi herself tested positive for the same substance in January 2010 and the couple briefly separated. She was later cleared when her B sample fell short of the levels required to verify wrongdoing.

Riccò returned to racing last season and swore that he would compete clean; he started working with Mapei Centre chief physiologist Aldo Sassi, who had a reputation as being anti-doping.

Sassi had terminal cancer. He said that he put a lot of faith in Riccò to behave properly, choosing him for his last big project. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Sassi concluded his meeting with Riccò by telling him, “I have a life expectancy that goes as far as July: you’re my last gamble.”

Sadly, Sassi passed away suddenly in December. Last month, Riccò promised that he would continue on in the right way. “Aldo has sadly died,” he told La Derniere Heure. "But his spirit still exists at the Mapei centre. I now work with people who worked with him these past fifteen years and using its methods. Working with Sassi has done a lot of good for my image, it’s true, but I especially want it to bear fruit."

If Riccò’s doping is confirmed, it would appear that he cynically exploited Sassi’s final weeks and his memory in order to pass himself off as a reformed rider.

What next?

The prosecutor of Modena received news of the transfusion yesterday evening at 7.30. He has requested the medical records of the rider, who remains under observation in hospital. La Gazzetta states that the rider is likely to be interrogated as soon as possible, and to undergo various examinations.

Riccò’s Vacansoleil team were keen to play down the significance of the case yesterday, responding to media reports about his kidney problems by saying that he had simply ‘a high fever.’ It is not yet known if the team were aware that the rider had been transfusing blood, but it looks like their gamble on him has not paid off.

Having already served a lengthy suspension for a serious doping violation, the Italian will almost certainly face a lifetime ban from sport if it is indeed shown that he auto-transfused blood.

He had been readying himself for the upcoming Tour of the Mediterranean, where he had pinpointed the Mont Faron stage as a big goal. Now, his upcoming battles may prove to be in the courts rather than on the slopes.


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