After the Twittersphere's indignation should come the introspection. He's a fool, a cheat and a liar, but Riccardo Ricco should not be scapegoated for the collective problem cycling must rally against.
Words by Andy McGrath
Newsflash: Riccardo Ricco is the anti-Christ. Or so you’d have thought from a brief perusing of the worldwide web yesterday.
Even for the man cycling has loved to hate in recent years, his latest crime engendered a new kind of loathing. For hours, professionals cyclists, media and fans were united in scathing criticism of the Italian.
The reason? Reports suggest that Ricco was rushed to hospital on Sunday in a critical condition with reported kidney failure after attempting to transfuse a bag of blood that had been in his fridge for 25 days.
He nearly killed himself, the stupid fool. The Twittersphere was ablaze with shock, anger, suggestions of karmic retribution, crowing; one fellow professional even typed ‘I hope he doesn’t wake up’, later deleting his post.
So what has Ricco done differently? Lied repeatedly? Tom Boonen told porkies about cocaine use. Said he was a changed man? Hamilton tested positive twice. So did Aitor Gonzalez. Niklas Axelsson as well. Returned to cycling showing no public remorse? That’s a nasty personality defect that endeared him to even fewer.
It’s the currentness and grimness of his reputed transgression that makes this different to other cases.
Blood transfusion is the same crime as several past positive-testing peers. The only thing is, they've been caught and condemned later down the line, not in the glaring here and now.
Almost killing himself by transfusing bad blood is akin to Ricco catching his hand in a bear-trap-like cookie jar which almost dashed an artery.
Ricco’s sorry example is an advertisement for a lifetime ban; hopefully that will be his comeuppance. Jail may even beckon for him. Judging from the reaction, he can’t come back to cycling: if doping doesn’t tear him apart, his fellow riders will.
Professional cyclists speaking out against cheats is right. But it has been directed wrongly: doing it against Ricco, and on beautifully-faceless Twitter, has no lasting impact.
If only the peloton was as vociferous and unified in its anti-doping protests as they have been about Ricco (and race radios) on Twitter recently. But in person, it is much easier and safer to gather under a quiet unity and do nothing about the cheats.
That must change. The sport is currently in no lustrous state where fellow riders can be so self-righteous about Ricco. As if we need a reminder, the seven-time Tour de France champion is under federal investigation and the most recent champion Alberto Contador is appealing a one-year ban.
Is it okay for riders to keep schtum about the likes of Contador, Valverde, Di Luca and Rasmussen (the list goes on) because they were only banned once? Because they didn’t appear to have odious personalities and clung to implausible defences? A cheat is a cheat, whether he has big, brown doe-eyes or conducts himself with shameless arrogance.
Ricco belongs to that latter category. He might be a fool, a liar and a cheat too. Hell, he comes off as a nasty piece of work personality-wise as well.
However, he should not be the scapegoat for cycling’s collective woes or a target for mass hysteria, especially while facts are hazy and he recovers from liver failure in an Italian hospital.
Twitter, and internet comment in general, is geared towards knee-jerk reaction. But I hope that, as the flames flicker out twenty-four hours after the initial inferno, more people will stop, think and realise that Ricco is not the enemy.
Cheats as a whole are, and the riders needs to rally as a whole against them - in person.
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Edward Pickering is a writer and journalist, editor of Pro Cycling and previous deputy editor of Cycle Sport. As well as contributing to Cycling Weekly, he has also written for the likes of the New York Times. His book, The Race Against Time, saw him shortlisted for Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards. A self-confessed 'fair weather cyclist', Pickering also enjoys running.
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