Here Riccó again

In the 2008 Tour de France Riccardo Riccó was ejected from the race after Stage 11 having tested positive for CERA, the next generation of the blood-booster EPO. This week UCI, the world cycling governing body, have reduced his 2 year suspension to 20 months after a successful appeal by Riccó to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This means that he will now be eligible to ride as and from the Milan San Remo next March.

I had written in a previous post that ex-dopers aren’t welcomed easily back to the peloton. They find it difficult to find a top team willing to sign them and even harder to instill enough confidence in their team mates to convince them to ride for their newly reformed leader. It was pointed out however, that there are exceptions. Ivan Basso for example, returned to Grand Tour racing at the Giro earlier this year without registering too much on the returning-doper-animosity scale. Perhaps the two riders that currently lie on opposite ends of this scale are British rider David Millar and Alexander Vinokorouv from Kazakhstan. They were both cheats and were both found guilty of taking drugs. But Millar is now more well-known for his anti-doping stance rather than his prior misdemeanors, whereas ‘Vino’ is probably more synonymous with the phrase ‘unapologetic wanker’.

Riccardo Riccó shortly after being ejected from the 2008 Tour de France

Riccardo Riccó shortly after being ejected from the 2008 Tour de France

Before their respective bans, Millar had won three stages of the Tour de France, three stages of the Vuelta a Espana and the World Time Trial Championship, while Vinokourov had also won three stages of the Tour, along with the overall title at major stage races such as the Vuelta a Espana, Paris-Nice, Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour de Suisse. Both were very high profile riders within the pro peloton and both had been caught cheating, so why the differing attitudes towards them?

It was their difference in attitude in the aftermath of being caught that has resulted in the difference in public opinion of them now. Millar eventually confessed and offered full disclosure of what was involved in his doping practices. He has since joined the uber anti-doping squad of Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin and has shown to be very willing to reform and speak out against doping in the sport. When Riccó tested positive at the Tour last year, Millar said to Cycling News:

“It is bullshit… I think it’s unfortunate that when things look too good to be true, generally they are too good to be true – and he did look pretty f***ing good. It is just amazing that he is that irresponsible and doesn’t have any love or care for the sport.”

While I appreciate Millar’s anti-doping sentiments these days, it is a tad rich considering he had been that irresponsible four years earlier. Perhaps he should leave comments like that to riders who’ve never been found guilty of doping. Vinokourov on the other hand hasn’t offered the fans any apology or even acknowledgment of any wrong-doing. This has not endeared him to fans and has resulted in widespread contempt for him. Perhaps the general regard that he is held in is best summed up by Cycle Sport Magazine’s comment on Twitter when he appeared at the front of the race at the Tour of Lombardy: ‘Vino up to the front. Eurgh.’

If Vinokourov thinks that the attitudes towards him have been prickly, I fear that the animosity towards Riccó upon his return will be even worse. Despite Riccó’s admission and apology he is grossly unpopular within the peloton. Robbie Hunter once said of him:

“He needs to be punched in the nose for his arrogance. Idiot, I doubt he will ever show his face in the pro peloton again ’cause nobody likes him, and for sure nobody will miss him. I certainly won’t. He is a cheat and should be treated like one.”

Vinokourov winning the final stage of the 2005 Tour de France. The sight of Vino crossing the finish line first these days would prove to be a very unpopular sight.

Vinokourov winning the final stage of the 2005 Tour de France. The sight of Vino crossing the finish line first these days would prove to be very unpopular.

Well, unfortunately Robbie, he is going to show his face again, but how will he fare? Riders returning from suspension have often found it difficult to get back to the level they were at before their ban. Of course (although we can only presume) a returning rider is now racing without the aid of performance enhancing drugs and as as a result tend to struggle. Ivan Basso took 2nd place in the 2005 Tour de France and dominated the 2006 Giro. After Armstrong’s retirement he became most people’s favourite to win the Tour. But then the trouble started for him and he hasn’t ridden the Tour since. In his first year back from suspension he hasn’t had the same strength in the mountains and his time trialling seems to have also deteriorated, although he did manage a commendable 4th place in both the Giro and the Vuelta. But this is certainly not the form that suggests he was supposed to be the man to dominate the Tour after Armstrong’s departure.

Vinokourov’s first major race as a former doper was the Vuelta this year where he managed 4th place on one of the stages but never made the final selection on the mountain stages and then abandoned with 9 days of racing to go. David Millar also wasn’t the same rider since his return from suspension. His time trial victory in the Vuelta this year was his first victory (excepting national championships) since the Paris-Nice prologue in 2007, a barren spell of more than two and a half years. Other notable former dopers Floyd Landis, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton and Francisco Mancebo have all moved from the highest level of the sport to the U.S. domestic scene where they’ve picked up a few modest victories but have been nowhere near the riders they were before their doping cases.

It’s clear that returning to top level racing after a doping ban isn’t easy. Between the lack of form that returning dopers suffer from and the general disdain held for Riccó amongst his peers, he will surely find his return to top level racing very difficult indeed.

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  1. ciaran - October 27, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

    Great story, yeah hate drugs cheats like Vino. Cant believe they reduced Riccos ban? why? what msg does that give out? Stupid.

  2. Ronan - October 30, 2009 @ 10:01 am

    And now Zabel gets a posting from the UCI on the Pro-Tour Council. “No place for cheats in our sport” said Pat McQuaid just a month ago. Really?

  3. ola - November 10, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

    And not just Zabel – another of Ferrari’s flunkies is there too, Stephen Roche.

  4. irishpeloton - November 10, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

    Was that not Ferrari’s master Francesco Conconi rather than Ferrari himself?

  5. ola - November 11, 2009 @ 9:18 am

    It was actually Grazzi, who was working with Conconi and Ferrari at Ferrara.

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