Riccardo Riccó: "I gave myself a blood transfusion"

And we thought Contador had issues

Riccardo Riccó has apparently admitted to blood doping, transfusing himself with blood that he’d stored in a fridge at home, confessing that he’d kept the sample for 25 days, that the blood could have been poorly stored during this period as a warning to the doctors. The sensational news comes from La Gazzetta Dello Sport.

I’d been cautioning about drawing conclusions. Riccó’s reputation precedes him but in the spirit of fairness anyone can get knocked by a kidney illness, right? Injecting home-stored blood is certainly one way to promote renal failure.

Riders have traditionally given themselves a boost on the eve of a major objective so the idea of infusing blood when you’re not even racing seems strange. That said Riccó was known for taking EPO out of competition, apparently in a ploy to manipulate his blood levels and he could have been doing the same in between team training camps and the start of his season.

Police raids have revealed riders storing blood for a long time, the time period of 25 days is seemingly no problem if it is correctly handled and treated. What went wrong? Was this a DIY attempt that literally went sour?

Who? Part I
Riccó may appear like the biggest idiot alive on the Italian peninsula right now but was he acting alone? Blood doping isn’t like cutting yourself, draining some blood into a mug and then using a funnel to pour it back in at the right time. Instead it’s sophisticated, the blood needs treatment and special medical equipment. Can a rider do this by themselves or was Riccó acting alone or was a doctor or “trainer” involved?

Who? Part II
Who else if you like. If blood went bad this sounds like a rare mistake. We’ve had instances of Jesus Manzano getting very ill but it seems to be very uncommon. Based on this, Riccó’s undoing wasn’t blood doping but bungled storage. If these practices have not been detected by the arsenal of anti-doping methods, from out-of-comp testing to the bio passport then many will look at the bunch and giant question marks appear over some of the riders.

Who? Part III
At best it was optimistic of Vacansoleil to hire this guy. He’s a proven liability who even styles himself as a snake. Given this you’d think the Dutch squad would keep him on a tight leash, taking big steps to accompany this guy and surrounding him with the support he needed to live clean. Indeed Riccó was going to work with Aldo Sassi, which at the time sounded encouragement but it also signalled Vacansoleil was being hands-off when it came to his training regime, leaving it to someone outside of the team. When Sassi died, who was appointed to fill the gap?

We have a guy in hospital and the police are starting an investigation. A lot of questions are building up for the moment he recovers. If the Gazzetta allegations prove to be true then this is not a matter for Riccó alone. Once again doping is a systemic issue that concerns coaching staff, teams and officials.

17 thoughts on “Riccardo Riccó: "I gave myself a blood transfusion"”

  1. Anonymous: if this is true then I think he's got enough troubles of his own. I'm more concerned about bunch-wide practices, the validity of the bio passport and so on than seeing Ricco burned at the stake.

  2. I feel a little sorry for Ricco. Obviously he is a grown-up and is responsible for his own actions, but he has probably doped his whole career and doesn't know how to race clean, kind of like some people don't know how to live sober or drug free. I view the Riccos and Pantanis and essentially drug addicts that just don't know any other way.

    This is the dark side of professional cycling, I mean is there anything more pathetic than being holed up in some small hotel room trying to re-inject your own blood? I feel sorry for the young pros when they find out that that is what being a professional cycling is (hopefully more and more "was") all about.

  3. With you there JZ.

    But still, the talk of working with Sassi? And what of the "you can win the Giro clean" interview on 10 January. If the 25 day theory is right, he was storing the blood at him only a few days after his claims.

    A good point that Ricco is essentially an addict. Given this he needs someone to understand him and help him out of the problems. I don't want to see the story take an even worse turn.

  4. I don't believe for a second what comes out of his mounth, that goes for plenty of the pros. For me this is a sad story on how to ruine a young mans life.

    The story of Ricco all the way back to when he was an amateur. The likes of so many others too! Addicted to doping. This is why it's so difficult to get the peleton to stand up against doping…it's infected to the bone.

    I wish there were something I could do…but just have to keep cheering for the young and clean. (but who is that?)


  5. I know there are wider issues and sorry for the bluntness, you may well delete this but, what a twat.
    It makes me sick. I fully understand that there are some who just do bad stuff, even the 'it's not his fault' theory is not beyond me. God knows my Mum died through alcoholism, so I understand the idea of the helpless addict. But all these people, without exception, make a decision to cheat/smoke/drink/inject somewhere along the line. It's their fault.
    It's Ricco's fault, so sod him. I just hope the UCI and WADA make sure we never hear of him again

  6. Thanks Owen, certainly I won't delete that. But I'm not sure if Ricco ever had that much choice, or at least one mistake years ago and it's very hard to get back up that slippery slope.

    Anonymous: true. I don't want to see this get worse. I hope he has good friends and that his employer wises up.

  7. About the blood doping going on thing: Didn't Sinkewitz report they tried to infuse him blood in Freiburg University clinic and two bags had blood clotting, only the third was working. And again, that was by approved physician at a university clinic, so it's risky business indeed.

    About Ricco – I can't help but think the guy is just totally stupid. Not only because of (maybe) doping again (wrongly) but also because of the comments he had for his then girlfriend and mother of his child when she returned a positive test.

  8. packfill, I have a sneaking suspicion that the doping positive was simply an excuse to get out of a relationship and a situation that he didn't want to be in, rather than doing the hard thing and telling her to her face that either he didn't love her or that he didn't want to be a parent. So, straight-up immaturity and selfishness, not stupidity.

    So, it's clear that my opinion of Ricco is not very high (and wasn't before he got popped the first time), but I do pity him, and I'm glad he survived this mistake. He needs to get his life turned around, and cycling is probably not a place where he can do it. But I hope that he really talks this time and tells absolutely everything and everyone he knows. His reputation in cycling is gone forever anyway; he has nothing to lose. I just hope he realizes that.

  9. The only thing "shocking" about Ricco's issues is that I thought he'd be caught AFTER he ruined the Giro this year. So, I'm glad he's been found out before he ruins another race. Good riddance and I hope he lives only so he can be banned for life and finger all others involved.

    Oh, and the Passport is kind of a joke. Gives these guys a target to go after kinda like hemocrat levels. With enough brains and tools, these guys can not target their manipulation and micro dose just fine. Ricco's just too dumb to get the mix right or he forgot to keep the blood in the fridge.

  10. packfill: yes, there have been a few other examples of worrying practices too. Yes Ricco is stupid but it's likely he is being manipulated by others.

    Greg: yes. A lesson from Pantani is that when a rider ends up like this, cycling is the last thing they need. Ideally they need to be removed from the sport, the "star system" and the pay cheques and concentrate on resuming a normal life.

    Anonymous: indeed, the passport is increasingly looking easy to dodge. It's just seeing riders change their patterns, not their behaviour or attitude. The tragedy here is that he could simply get exposed for a "storage malfunction", a handling mistake. In other words, he might have got away with this and what about other riders too?

  11. it's no secret that cycling in general is not recognizable on student hats! Have been there myself. It is a sport with many sacrifices, suffering and pain – and very little time to reflection to life or surplus to education. Pro cycling is a traveling circuses with closed circuit, where "common knowledge" remains active given from the hunchback-alcoholic-one eyed soigeneurs and former doperes as sports directors. It is a mess. The riders have ended up as simple marketing pieces being grossly exploited by large commercial companies, acting like rock stars, while they are getting more and more stupid. I believe in compulsory education until the 25th years for pro UCI riders instead of blodpas and anti-doping programs, which by the way are riddled with corruption and a deep desire to letting the weehls keep on turning. Build schools instead of anti-doping laboratories and complete stop exams until the riders are 25 years. End of story.

  12. Education is a big part, Anders. Some teams might exploit their riders – it has always been so – but some do work on helping their riders to achieve results in a more healthy way.

    Too often a rider is left to himself, a Dutch team hires an Italian rider and doesn't put anything in place to help him… look at the result.

  13. As someone who'd race and follow pro-cycling whatever the doping status of the riders, I must say – perhaps controversially – that with Landis, Armstrong, Contador, Ricco, etc, etc, I find this to be a really interesting time to be following the sport.

    I do worry about Vino though, especially with him being one of my favourite riders n'all.

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