In a week in which the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirmed the ban of one rider, Alejandro Valverde, from racing in Italy, Riccardo Riccò is preparing to return to the sport after serving out his own suspension.
The former Saunier-Duval-Scott rider, who tested positive for EPO variant CERA during the 2008 Tour de France, in which he won Stage 6, was suspended for two years, subsequently reduced on appeal to 20 months due to his co-operation.
That ban expired this week, meaning that Riccò, now signed to the Italian Professional Continental team Ceramica Flaminia, is free to return to competition, and according to the Italian website Tuttobicweb, he is keen to show the world that he is a changed man.
Speaking at his team’s retreat near Mount Etna on Sicily, Riccò, who resumes his career next week with the Settimana Internazionale Coppi & Bartali from 23 to 27 March, said: “For me, this is a second debut, it’s a very strange sensation that I’m feeling, I’ve been a bike rider since I was a child and I’ve made many debuts but this is certainly the most important one of my career. I’ve worked so hard to be prepared for this great new opportunity; cycling is my job and from now on I can’t commit the errors I’ve made in the past.”
In a statement that at times began seemed more akin to an Oscar acceptance speech than that of a repentant drugs cheat preparing to return to his chosen sport, Riccò continued: “I thank my new team; I have wonderful team mates, highly prepared technicians and excellent staff, and working with these men has given me the serenity I wanted.”
He continued: “I also thank my rivals who I will encounter during the season; I made a mistake, I realise that, but I’m also a human being and in life one commits errors. Please excuse me. I also ask forgiveness from all cycling fans, competitors, team management, journalists, all of our world; my mistakes belong to the past, and from now on you’ll know another Riccardo.”
Conspicuous from that list of those that Riccò wanted to thank was his partner and mother of his child, Vania Rossi, who is currently suspended after testing positive for CERA after the Italian Cyclo-cross Championships in January.
Riccò very publicly dumped her shortly afterwards, saying that there could be no reconciliation until, as he put it, she managed to prove she was “completely innocent” of the accusations levelled at her, a statement that brought widespread condemnation on him from across the cycling world, including being labelled a “hypocrite” by Katusha rider Robbie McEwen.
Despite the olive branch Riccò has offered, the Australian is by no means the only member of the peloton that he will find it difficult – and in all probability, impossible – to win over. Recently, HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish called him a “parasite.”
While his feelings for Rossi may have cooled, the same cannot be said of Riccò’s passion for the sport. “My enthusiasm for cycling hasn’t burnt out,” he claimed. “Rather, it’s greater than it’s ever been. I only ask to be able to demonstrate to everyone that I love this sport.”
He continued: “Now I know that you can ride and carry on your own work with honesty, seeking to improve solely through sacrifice and making an effort but above all renouncing short cuts” – the closest he came to acknowledging his drugs use – “which are only the quickest way to failure as a human being, as well as a sportsman. I missed my world; now I’ll never let it slip away again.”
Those who believe in giving transgressors a second chance once they have served their punishment will certainly hope that he keeps his word.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.