The former Tour de France yellow leader banned for four years for a doping offence says he doesn’t know how to prove his innocence.
Rinaldo Nocentini, who retired from racing last year, has been banned by the Italian anti-doping authority for “use or attempted use of prohibited methods.”
The 43-year-old has now spoken out about the ban and has denied doping, questioning why he would resort to banned methods in the twilight of his career.
In an interview with Italian website TuttoBici, Nocentini said: “At 41, why should I have resorted to prohibited practices? They are not part of my working method or my values. In my career I have undergone all kinds of checks and nothing has ever turned out.
“In the many years in which I have played among professionals there have been inquiries like Operation Puerto and those concerning Dr. Ferrari, I have never been brought up in any case and in no interception, being disqualified now so heavily seems to me something out of this world.”
According to the rider, the doping offence relates to the 2018 Tour of Portugal, which he says should have been the last race of his career before his team asked him to stay on.
He said that authorities said during the race some of his physiological parameters that should have dropped during the race did not go down, but he denies this.
Nocentini, who spent much of his career with Ag2r La Mondiale, was found to have irregularities in his biological passport in December 2019, shortly before his retirement.
The ban runs from November 20, 2020 until November 29, 2024, but Nocentini says he has no intention of returning to the sport.
The Italian National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO) announced the ban earlier this week, as Nocentini was also stripped of all of his results dating back to January 2018, including two stage victories in La Tropicale Amissa Bongo that season.
He added: “I am now out of cycling and, after this story, I want to stay there.
“I know how I rode and that I deserved the results I honestly got. I feel betrayed by a sport that has been my life and that I have faced seriously and correctly, enduring many sacrifices .
“I hope in the end everything will be resolved for the best, but in the meantime my image is tarnished.”
The Tuscan rider turned professional with Mapei-Quickstep in 1999 and rode 21 seasons in the pro peloton.
He spent eight years with French WorldTour team Ag2r from 2007 until 2015, when he stepped down to join Continental squad Sporting Clube de Portugal/Tavira, where he remained for the rest of his career.
Nocentini racked up 17 wins during his career, including the 2003 Giro di Toscana and a stage of the 2009 Tour of California, as well as a second-place finish overall in Paris-Nice and fourth in Tirreno-Adriatico.
During his long career, Nocentini rode 17 Grand Tours, including two Tours de France, and 27 Monuments – 12 starts in Il Lombardia, eight in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and seven editions of Italian Classic Milan-San Remo.
But by far his crowning achievement was the 2009 Tour de France, where he led the race for eight days from stage seven until stage 14, eventually finishing 12th on general classification as Alberto Contador won the yellow jersey.
He now runs a training centre for cyclists in Tuscany.