Giorgio Squinzi, owner of the Italian adhesives business Mapei, has issued a damning verdict on Riccardo Riccò, admitted to hospital last weekend following what he reportedly admitted was a botched self-transfusion of blood stored in his fridge, likening the Italian cyclist's alleged actions to killing Aldo Sassi "a second time."
Sassi, who died shortly before Christmas after battling a brain tumour, was the founder and director of the Mapei Centre training and coaching facility used by cyclists including Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso, and despite illness took Riccò under his wing last November, as the 27-year-old prepared to return to his first full season back in the sport following his return last year from a 20-month ban for doping.
The 67-year-old Squinzi, himself a keen cyclist who still manages to clock up some 4,000 kilometres a year and whose business formerly sponsored the top-flight Mapei-Quickstep team, revealed in an interview published in yesterday’s print edition of the Gazzetta dello Sport that he had experienced misgivings from the start over Riccò attending the Mapei Centre, whose operations are firmly rooted in Sassi’s philosophy of a clean, drugs-free sport.
“We accepted following Riccò only out of respect for Sassi in the final months of his life,” Squinzi explained. “Indeed, I was pretty much against it. And Aldo knew that. I told him to let it go. But this was a personal challenge for Sassi. Something he believed in. Evidently, not everyone is equal. It’s like killing him a second time.”
Squinzi’s issues with Riccò, reports the newspaper, aren’t so much to do with the guilt by association that has been attached by some to the Mapei Centre, but rather the betrayal of trust in Sassi.
The businessman has sought to distance the Mapei Centre from Riccò, saying he “was a client: he came to us, undertook tests, he paid, and that’s it,” adding that the facility had never put itself forward as occupying the role of “testers,” and confirmed that it would co-operate in the criminal inquiry already initiated by the public prosecutor’s office in Riccò’s home city of Modena.
Investigators are reported to be sifting through Riccò’s mobile phone records in an attempt to reconstruct Riccò’s movements, particulary between Friday, when he was tested at the Mapei centre, and Saturday evening, when he fell ill. The suspicion is that Riccò, who remains in hospital, was not acting alone.
Squinzi’s comments were published on the same day that Riccò’s team, Vancansoleil-DCM, announced that it had suspended the rider.
In a statement published on its website, the Netherlands-based ProTeam said: “Internal research results following the illness and rumors regarding Riccò has given the team suffcient reason to suspend Italian with immediate effect.
“Last Tuesday, the team started an urgent investigation following the hospitalisation of Riccardo Riccò. Three days later the results of this study brought the team to the conclusion that an immediate suspension of Riccò was required. The violation of internal regulations of the team and other indications justify this measure. Today Riccò received a registered letter on this matter.
”Besides the suspension the team has also put the working relationship with Riccò up for discussion, the team will of course follow appropriate legal route on this matter. The team can not prejudge but emphasizes that a zero-tolerance policy towards doping is practised.”
Vacansoleil-DCM was widely viewed as having taken a gamble on Riccò’s signing, and the team will also be awaiting with trepidation the result of an analysis of the B-sample of Spanish rider Ezequiel Mosquera, whom they signed from the now defunct Xacobeo-Galicia team shortly before it was revealed that the Spaniard had failed a test for hydroxyethyl starch during last September’s Vuelta, which he finished as runner-up to Liquigas rider Vincenzo Nibali.
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.