Katusha rider Luca Paolini has admitted to using cocaine, the substance for which he tested positive in July’s Tour de France, leading to him being thrown off the race.
The 38-year-old, winner of Belgian Classic Gent-Wevelgem this year, also said in a candid interview published in the print edition of Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that he had started using cocaine after earlier become addicted to sleeping pills.
It is the first time that the Milan-born rider has confirmed he used the drug. After it was revealed that he had failed a drugs test after Stage 4 of the Tour de France, he tweeted a denial that he had ever used cocaine.
But he told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he had started using sleeping pills – specifically, benzodeazepine – after the death of his brother-in-law in 2004.
“I needed rest to get through the demands of the following days, but those drugs created a damned dependency,” said Paolini, who added that he had always used sleeping pills during the past two or three years.
His cocaine use happened when he was training in the mountains during June, ahead of the Tour de France.
“At night I lost lucidity, I was alone and it happened almost without me realising it,” he said.
"I cannot offer excuses, I have let down a generation who believed in me,” added Paolini, who since being provisionally suspended has spent some time in a drug dependency unit, helping him overcome his addiction.
“It’s my biggest victory,” he reflected. “I’m a very proud person, I never sought help. When you have problems you shouldn’t keep everything hidden inside yourself but should seek help.”
Earlier this month, the UCI said that it had referred Paolini’s case to the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal which will consider whether to impose what could very well be, given his age, a career-ending ban.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.