At this stage of the game we don't exactly know what happened to Riccardo Ricco. All we have are pieces of a larger personal story waiting to be stitched together.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

At this stage of the game we don't exactly know what happened to
Riccardo Ricco. All we have are pieces of a larger personal story
waiting to be stitched together.

Based on the reports this looks
like a a simple case of doping gone bad and this is how it's being
treated by all and sundry, seemingly a case in isolation.

His
mistake was to self medicate and screw up the result. Something that
almost cost him his life and has almost certainly cost him his career.

So
today, Ricco is the whipping-boy de jour of the sport - one that seems
to be desperately looking for a single scapegoat to hang the sins of
cycling on. It's all about him.

But what are we going to do when
the next guy comes along? As he surely must. What happens if that rider
is a huge fan favourite?

Like many I'm struggling to place Ricco
in an understandable context, but a view that I absolutely reject is
one that demonises Ricco without taking other issues into consideration.

The
web, Twitter, article comments and Forums are aflame with fear and
loathing for the 'The Cobra".

Eurosport commentator David Harmon
appeared to sum up the general feeling with his comments about locking
Ricco up and throwing the key into the river Thames - he then neatly
segued back to his stage three Qatar racing commentary with a
declaration that we were witnessing a clean peloton.

I laughed...ruefully.

Even I took
the piss out of Ricco's seeming addiction to the contents of a blood bag
and the needle in my end-of-year post.

"Riccardo Ricco will
get busted for the usual. Frustrated Italian anti-doping prosecutors
will attempt to suspend the entire country from involvement in cycling,
for life."


If it were only so easy. I may have been right but I
was also callous in showing a snarky disregard for Ricco's all too human
failings.

I see performance based doping in cycling as no
different to a wider drug problem in society. And hope that it can
eventually be dealt in a more measured and intelligent way.

Not
with a 'war on drugs' approach and certainly not with a 'law and order'
approach seemingly favoured by some hotheads on Twitter. We know how
effective that has been when it comes to criminal drug issues.

Social
substances like alcohol, coke, marijuana, amphetamines and a host of
over the counter and prescribed drugs are the order of the day for
millions around the world.

Many take them to escape whatever
daily reality marks their lives and like professional cyclists many
others use them to enhance their daily reality - one thing should be
obvious to anyone who takes even a cursory look at society - we
are heavily medicated.

There are also other elements at play in
Ricco's recidivism into doping [if he ever stopped at all], elements
that have to be included in any discussion about doping.

Doping
may also be a symptom of mental illness. After all, what possesses
anyone to do what he (and others) is alleged to have done? No sane
person would take those risks.

Doping may also be a symptom of an
illness in the sport. An illness that riders, soigneurs team directors,
doctors and the UCI itself should take responsibility for.

Everyone
has an opinion on race radios but try to talk to a pro cyclist about
doping and you can see them looking for an escape route to the team bus.

Another
important question is to ask what kind of world does someone like Ricco
occupy which encourages him (and others) to do as he has done?

Currently
we have three-time and seven time Tour de France champions in Alberto
Contador and Lance Armstrong embroiled in doping investigations.

The
1996 champion, Bjarne Riis is an admitted doper, the 1997 champion Jan
Ullrich is similarly disgraced. The 1998 champion Marco Pantani? Gone
and dead. 2006 winner Floyd Landis? Busted and broke.

Clearly
Ricco isn't alone, something is seriously wrong. And locking riders up
and throwing away the key isn't going to solve this any time soon.