• Luca Paolini: Can we believe him? (EPA)Source: EPA
If his B-sample confirms what the A-sample has already told us, the fall of Luca Paolini will be yet another blow to the sport's credibility, at a time when it was just starting to regain it, writes Anthony Tan.
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12 Jul 2015 - 12:01 AM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2015 - 12:16 AM

He displayed an irreverence not unlike the late Marco Pantani. In fact, with his scraggy beard and looks, the 38-year-old Milanese could be mistaken for being a relative of Il Pirata.

Luca Paolini's maverick ways challenged popular thinking behind the modern-day professional cyclist - one that is obsessed with science, technology and numbers, sometimes to the point where you feel each one is simply a clone of another.

"If Paolini is going to blame contamination, why him and not Rodríguez?"

It was partly his insouciance towards the norm that made him popular, as well as his age; fans, particularly the MAMIL variety, love seeing someone of their generation being able to compete with, and occasionally, beat, the best. Jens Voigt, until his retirement last year, a case in point.

Suspected of illegal drugs use in 2006 after his name popped up in taped phone conversations with Ivan 'it was only attempted doping' Basso and his sister, Paolini, riding for Liquigas at the time, was never found of any wrongdoing due to a lack of evidence.

However, as ITV's Ned Boulting's excerpt from his 2014 book 101 Damnations points out, he did have a proclivity for partying and drinking on tour (including the Tour); generally considered anathema if you want to be a successful cyclist...

Nonetheless, in his tenure at Katusha, where he has been since 2011, and originally hired as a domestique for Filippo Pozzato (who, after a few seasons of poor performances, is now languishing at Lampre-Merida), Paolini, against the odds, has been enjoying somewhat of an Indian Summer.

Winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsbald and fifth in Milan-Sanremo in 2013, as well as a stage win at the Giro d'Italia; instrumental to Alexander Kristoff's 2014 victory in Sanremo; and on March 29 this year, arguably his apotheosis when he won a wind- and rain-ravaged Gent-Wevelgem - without doubt, the best Classic we saw this European spring.

Yet barely three months after his apotheosis comes rock bottom: a positive A-sample for cocaine.

Taken from an in-competition test on July 7, equating to Stage 4 of this year's Tour de France, Paolini, who has said he will attend the analysis of his B-sample as he is entitled to do, has responded in typical 'I don't know how it got there' fashion, telling La Gazetta dello Sport, "I do not know what to say, I’m stunned. I did not take cocaine.”

July 7 happened to be the day after his teammate Joaquim Rodríguez, in his typical puncheur style, won atop the Mur de Huy, who, as the stage winner, would most certainly have been tested.

So, if Paolini is going to blame contamination, why him and not Rodríguez, since they effectively eat off the same plate?

Reads the statement from the UCI: "In accordance with UCI Anti-doping Rules, the rider has been provisionally suspended until the adjudication of the affair."

Until then, we wait. However, as far as I'm concerned, and what history has told us, the prognosis doesn't look good.