The career of Italian rider Riccardo Ricco is an unfortunate one, one in which an immutable desire to win overtook any regard for fair play or good sportsmanship. Although, at this point, he no longer holds a racing licence, this ban puts the final nail in the coffin of a once-incredibly promising career.
Ricco was able to win two stages at the 2008 Giro d’Italia, finishing second overall in the GC, and was given the title of “Best Young Rider” for that year’s iteration. He was off to a good start, but that all came to a thudding halt when he tested positive for the blood booster CERA in the Tour de France later that same year. He was served with a two-year ban as his first doping violation and wasn’t able to return until 2010.
Upon his return to full-time racing, he was beginning to make headway as a rider. This second stint as a professional lasted less than a year before it came to a shocking, self-inflicted end. He was side-lined him once again – rushed to hospital in an ambulance, allegedly, after trying to carry out a blood transfusion on himself with a bag of blood he had kept in his fridge at home.
This suspension was rather more serious. The second offence (and the severity of the situation) led to a 12-year ban from professional racing, effectively ending his career at the highest level, but he continued to race, nonetheless. In 2014, he was invited to participate in several Gran Fondo events and, that same year, announced that he would be attempting to break world records for some of cycling’s most difficult climbs, including the fabled Mont Ventoux. Things looked positive. Perhaps he would carve out an unorthodox career away from the professional circuit?
On the 29th of April 2014, Ricco and a compatriot were caught red-handed by Italian police as they attempted to purchase thirty doses of Testosterone and EPO from two dealers in a McDonalds car park in Livorno. While (overtly) frowned upon in the world of professional cycling, doping is outright illegal in Italy. More than five years later, the once-promising Italian pro has been banned for life by the Tribunale Nazionale Anti-Doping Organisation and ordered to pay the sum of 4000 Euros. Ricco still had several years remaining on his previous 12-year ban so, at 37 years of age, the life-time ban is largely a procedural one.
It does, however, highlight the fact that doping is still a blight that affects the beloved sport of cycling to this day. That did not die with the exposure and public shaming of Lance Armstrong. It still lingers. I struggle to imagine a time where cycling, and sport generally, with the requirement that, in order to win, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything, including family, to reach the very top, may be free of doping and drug abuse. It’ll be around for a while longer yet.