Italy’s Riccardo Ricco, winner of two stages in this year’s Tour de France, has tested positive for the banned blood booster EPO, casting a further shadow on the venerable French race and condemning team Saunier Duval to an early exit.
The Tour de France suffered a further blow on Thursday as the sports daily L’Equipe announced that Italy’s Riccardo Ricco was the latest cyclist to be thrown out of the race. One thing is sure – the rebirth of the world’s most prestigious cycling competition will not take place this year.
The first two runners to have tested positive in the 2008 Tour, Spaniards Moises Duenas Nevado (team Barloworld) and Manuel Beltran (team Liquigas), were both a safe distance from the race leaders. This time, however, the culprit is one of the pack’s leading stars: Riccardo Ricco, dubbed the Cobra.
Ricco had grabbed all the headlines after his heroics on the Col d’Aspin, when he steamed ahead of his breakaway partners to clinch a famous victory in the Pyrenees. The Cobra also wore the best climber’s jersey, as well as that of the best youngster (under 25 years of age).
A talent prone to suspicion
The frail Italian rider had aroused suspicions in the past. He spent years trying to prove that his abnormally high haematocrit ratio was due to a health condition, a position accepted by the International Cyclists’ Union (ICU) in 2005.
In its Thursday edition, published just before the announcement, l’Equipe discussed the Cobra’s reputation within the pack. For French rider Sandy Casar, “he’s scarcely loved”.
Branded an arrogant and overconfident agitator, Ricco is nonetheless admired for his climbing abilities. So much so, that he soon aroused the suspicions of French anti-doping agency AFLD, in charge of combating drug use on the Tour for the first time this year.
A victory for the AFLD
Unlike the ICU’s anti-doping body, the AFLD “targets” certain riders in addition to those who are drawn from a lot after every stage for a drug test.
Indeed, for Ricco, this was already the fourth test. As for Beltran, the first to be thrown out, he was also a target.
For the Tour’s chairman Patrice Clerc, the third positive test is proof that the authorities are “winning the battle” against doping.
The organizers of the Tour de France wanted this edition to bring about a rebirth of the venerable race. Banning several of the favourites ahead of the race was the price to pay.
Hence, no invitation was sent to the Astana team, whose leader Alexandre Vinokurov tested positive last year. As a result, Astana’s Alberto Contador, winner of last year’s Tour and this year’s Italian Giro, is taking no part in the Grande Boucle.
Now, with the Cobra disgraced, his Saunier-Duval teammates are also packing their bags.
Date created : 2008-07-24