Drugs, Ricco, Life

24 November 2010 | 0:00 - By Matthew Keenan

Once again drugs in cycling seem to be stealing all the headlines. If it’s not Lance Armstrong and the ongoing investigation into the US Postal team, it’s Alberto Contador and Clenbuterol.

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Italian Ricardo Ricco of team Vacansoleil (Getty)

Once again drugs in cycling seem to be stealing all the headlines. If it’s not Lance Armstrong and the ongoing investigation into the US Postal team, it’s Alberto Contador and Clenbuterol.

But cast your mind back a few months and the return to racing of Riccardo Ricco, who was, for want a better phrase, the face of doping in 2008.

Put your hand up if you let out an almighty groan when Ricco made his not long enough awaited return to the peloton. I’ve got both hands high in the sky.

When he got busted for CERA, the latest incarnation of EPO, I was in the thick of the action with the cameraman who was the Johnny on the spot, at the 2008 Tour de France, getting all the footage of his arrest by the French police.

Sitting around at dinner one night, after the first short-lived Ricco stage win, we were all in vigorous agreement that it would only be a matter of time before the Cobra went positive.

The plan was then hatched to get some behind the scenes footage of him to use in a package should our assumptions be correct.

Our cameraman Eric, who previously worked in war zones and so isn’t easily perturbed, told the Saunier-Duval team we wanted to do a feature on the team, given their great success of course, so was it okay if he followed them for a day.

With a little luck, it just happened to be the day the French police burst onto the Saunier-Duval team bus that our cameraman was onboard with the team doing the ‘behind the scenes story’. What timing.

Another bad story for cycling but what a get for our little team.

Given it was no surprise that Ricco burnt a hole in the cup used for his urine sample – it has been suggested by Jerome Pineau that Ricco openly doped even as a junior – the big surprise came when Aldo Sassi took on the project of coaching the little Italian climber.

What was Dr Sassi thinking?

After all this is the man that coaches Cadel Evans, the guy with the cleanest reputation in the peloton. Surely the easier option for Sassi, particularly to protect his own reputation, would be to take the well trodden 'throw the book at them' approach to a convicted drug cheat.

Okay, I get that Sassi is also coaching Ivan Basso, another convicted drug cheat, but Ricco’s brash approach seemed to be at another level.

So why has Sassi taken on the task? His future son-in-law, Australia’s Will Walker, gave me some insight into Dr Sassi’s thinking.

According to Walker, Sassi has a balanced view on life and a good ability to keep cycling, and its relative importance, in perspective.

As he’s currently battling cancer, with tumours having been removed from his brain earlier this year, his perspective on life has been further sharpened.

Quite simply Sassi fears that if someone doesn’t help Ricco get on the right track he’ll end up another Marco Pantani. Tragically dead before his time.

Sassi was also the one who convinced Walker to end his racing career, due to the heart condition that was putting his life at risk.

The renowned Italian doctor persuaded Walker that there is more to life than riding a bike so continuing to race just wouldn’t be worth the risk.

In complete contrast, Sassi helping Ricco to race may save Ricco, from himself.

No, I haven’t been converted to an admirer of the Cobra. But Sassi’s compassion and ability to keep things in perspective has softened my displeasure at Ricco’s return.

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Comments (12)

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01 Feb 2011 23:26 AEST

ron

From: brisbane

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what about david millar, in regards to drugs ,WHAT A HYPOCRITE!!!

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28 Nov 2010 9:23 AEST

mary

From: rosanna

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journalists use lance armstrong's name because they know it will attract attention so it is disingenuous for a journalist to say look how often lance armstrong's name is used in the press. the journalist creates the story.

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27 Nov 2010 16:14 AEST

Matt

From: Sydney

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Baffled to think how anyone could have misinterpreted this article. It's written in some fairly plain English Mary.

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26 Nov 2010 18:42 AEST

sasa

From: bassendean

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great article matt. as usual. at the risk of starting a whole lance-thing, not everyone is an armstrong sycophant. mary/max should be careful about how much faith you put in any one guy. must admit i was really surprised to see sassi work with ricco. i'm still not as forgiving as you though matt in even slightly softening to ricco. the guy is an unrepentant drug cheat. as you alluded to, he may have been doping as a junior even and its hard for leopards to change their spots.

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26 Nov 2010 8:43 AEST

Matt Keenan

From: Heidelberg

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Mary and Max, let me clarify the second sentence regarding Lance. Firstly, I believe in innocent until proven otherwise. The statement is in reference to the fact that the investigation into the possible use of drugs at US Postal is continually in the news. The Lance/US Postal investigation and Contador's clenbuterol case have had more mainstream media coverage than any other cycling issue in the past month. So in my view these two issues, both related to drugs - alleged or otherwise, have been stealing all the headlines.

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25 Nov 2010 19:22 AEST

Jason

From: Ipswich

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To Max and Mary, I suggest that you read this article again as many times as possible until you finally get the correct context through into your heads. Then you might appreciate how pointless your comments are. Nowhere is Matt casting any accusations or suggestion of Lance Armstrong's guilt or innocence. He is merely stating what's going on at the moment with drugs in cycling getting media coverage yet again and offering his objective opinion on the whole affair regarding Riccardo Ricco's return to the pro peloton, when he got busted for CERA and his current coaching arrangements. People like you really need to stick with the gossip magazines and watching A Current Affair/Today Tonight and believing all that they serve up. When an article is well written and objective you obviously don't know how to take it for what it is.

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25 Nov 2010 18:50 AEST

Andy

From: Sydney

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I don't know why people don't actually read the blog, rather than what they WANT it to say. Matt's opening paragraph about drugs stealing all the headlines is fair, and the inclusion of Armstrong's name is fair - after all, for better or for worse, Lance is getting a lot of headlines recently and they're all about the ongoing Novitsky investigation. But no, Mary, he's not attacking Lance. And no, Max, it doesn't mean Matt thinks Lance is guilty. All it is, is what it says - that guilty or not, too many cycling headlines recently revolve around Contador's clenbuterol and the US Postal investigation.

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25 Nov 2010 15:25 AEST

JohnR

From: Brisbane

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I recently purchased a four disc history of the tour and one disc was of Lance. Prior to getting the series I believed lance was clean. Now Im not so sure. Every senior rider who pushed lance has gone positive for doping or been under serious doping investigations. As the manager of Geoxx stated two days ago carlos sastre is the only winner of the TDF since 1996 that has not gone positve or been investigated for blood .I want a definitive answer from these investigations, the whispers have to stop and we all want to believe in miracles again

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25 Nov 2010 13:40 AEST

max

From: carlton

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Does this mean that Matt thinks Lance is guilty?

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25 Nov 2010 9:05 AEST

Ash

From: Canberra

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...all those clean cyclists who have missed their chance because of people like Ricco. As the bile rises to the back of my throat; I find it hard to soften my displeasure.

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