Vacansoleil risks Giro start as Riccò ring widens
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Vacansoleil risks Giro start as Riccò ring widens

by Samuel Morrison at 6:26 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia, Doping
Team fires masseur and Riccò's friend, Mongiardo

Dutch team Vacansoleil risks starting its first Giro d'Italia this May due to its connection with Riccardo Riccò and Ezequiel Mosquera. The two are involved in separate doping investigations in their home countries of Italy and Spain.

Giro d'Italia organiser RCS Sport is due to announce the 22 participating teams on Monday. It should issue four wild card invitations and give automatic entry to the 18 ProTeams, or first division teams.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) promoted Vacansoleil from second division to ProTeam status in November thanks in part to the UCI points of Riccò; although since Mosquera was provisionally suspended at the time, the team asked that his were not included. Riccò won seven races last year and Mosquera finished second at the Vuelta a España stage race. Since signing for the team, though, the two have been involved in doping investigations.

Riccò was hospitalised last month when he transfused his own blood, which is considered doping. He had already served a 20-month doping suspension for doping with EPO-CERA at the 2008 Tour de France. Mosquera tested positive at the Vuelta for Hydroxyethyl starch, a drug that may be used to mask EPO. The result only was revealed after he signed for Vacansoleil.

Vacansoleil suspended Riccò and – with the threat of losing its ProTeam licence and a possible Giro invitation – put Mosquera on non-active status.

RCS Sport may take action as it has in the past. Last year, Ceramica Flaminia failed to receive an invitation largely due to its new rider, Riccò. He finished second at the 2008 race behind Alberto Contador before going on to test positive at the Tour de France just over one month later. The wound was still too fresh for RCS Sport.

Riccò was discharged from the hospital on February 18, nearly two weeks after he entered. Shortly afterwards, the team suspended his masseur and friend, Flavio Mongiardo.

"I have nothing to do with this case," Mongiardo told La Gazzetta dello Sport yesterday. "The investigators have not contacted me."

Mongiardo reportedly may have helped Riccò with the transfusion. The two are linked by Riccò's sister Melissa, who has dated Mongiardo since last April.

"The team told me it's because I don't speak English, I worked only with Riccò and I'm involved with his family."

Team Vacansoleil has been careful to distance itself from Mongiardo, Riccò and Mosquera, but the damage may already have been done. Giro race director Angelo Zomegnan courts controversy and may decide to ignore the UCI rule that says all 18 ProTeams must participate his race.


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