road.cc's Rider of the Year, Mark Cavendish has condemned the return to cycling of drug cheat Riccardo Ricco, calling him 'a parasite'.
Cavendish was speaking after the news that Ricco plans to join a small Italian team, Ceramica Flaminia, when his ban ends on March 10. Originally handed down a two-year suspension after his ejection from the Tour de France in 2008, Ricco's ban - after testing positive for CERA, the third-generation form of the human growth hormone EPO - was reduced by four months on appeal on the grounds of his cooperation.
On March 20 he could face Cavendish in the Milan San Remo, and again in the Giro d'Italia a few weeks later.
Speaking to The Guardian at his HTC-Columbia team's training camp in Majorca, Cav said of Ricco: "It's like a parasite coming back into the sport. It's not the fact of what he did, because everyone can make a mistake. But he doesn't see it as a mistake. He's not even sorry about it."
Ricco, a specialist climber, won mountain stages of the 2008 Tour at Super-Besse and the Col'Aspin. Four days after the latter it was revealed that he had given a positive result from a dope test taken after the fourth stage, when he had tried to evade testers. He was expelled from the race and his Saunier-Duval team left with him, firing the Italian from the squad the following day.
"The passion that I and other riders have for a beautiful sport, and for someone not to give a shit about it, it's incredibly demoralising to have to compete against people like that," said Cavendish. "It's hard for me to say whether he should have been given a life ban. What upsets me is the lack of regret for everybody and everything they've damaged."
Another rider who was forced to leave the race along with Ricco was Cavendish's "good friend" David Millar, the Scottish rider, who served a two-year ban and has since made a successful return to the sport both as a rider and an outspoken campaigner against doping. "David is deeply sorry for what he did," Cavendish said. "It's the people who don't care about what they've done, that's what gets me."
Cav isn't the only rider to have lashed out at Ricco. After Mikel Astarloza was suspended in July last year, Robbie McEwen tweeted: "Astarloza, you're a wanker. While I'm at it, Ricco - stay gone, we don't want you back amongst us. Go ride with Kohl."