Riccardo Riccò is unable to race the Tour of Serbia starting on Monday with his new Meridiana team due to a suspension. The Italian cycling federation (FCI) announced on Wednesday morning that it is stopping him for health reasons.

The Italian cyclist, 27, tested positive for EPO-CERA at the 2008 Tour de France. In February, after returning to race with team Vacansoleil, he nearly died reportedly due to a botched blood transfusion. If true, it would be Riccò’s second offense and could bring a lifetime ban as blood transfusions are banned under the WADA code.

“It’s right that they [the FCI and Italian Olympic Committee (CONI)] do their job, but you should look at the others, like [Alberto] Contador for an example,” Meridiana team manager, Antonio Giallorenzo told Cycling Weekly.

Meridiana-Kamen is third division team in its third year. It’s based in Italy southern Campania region, but registered with the Union Cycliste International (UCI) in Croatia.

Riccò signed with Meridiana earlier this month, which the UCI confirmed on June 6. He was to race the Tour of Serbia stage race starting on Monday and ending June 19.

Giallorenzo was prepared to take a risk with Riccò despite earning a bad impression for his team.

“If that’s the case, then Liquigas, Androni and all the others are making a bad impression. Lampre has riders in its team who’ve been stopped, I don’t have to name their names,” Giallorenzo continued.

He referred to Italians Alessandro Petacchi and Michele Scarponi. In the last year, both have been involved in separate investigations. Scarponi had his belongings searched prior to racing the Giro d’Italia as part of an investigation of banned trainer, Michele Ferrari.

“Riccardo Riccò could race, there was no rule against that,” continued Giallorenzo. “Besides, who hasn’t made a mistake in his life? He made a mistake the first time [in 2008], the second time is in doubt, but it’s not up to me to decide.”

The CONI decided to take action before Riccò returned to race. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport today, CONI’s head prosecutor Ettore examined Riccò’s medical files yesterday and asked an internal doctor to look for evidence of a blood transfusion.

Team Vacansoleil fired Riccò on February 19, nearly two weeks after Riccò was hospitalised on February 6. Before being transferred to the bigger hospital, a hospital medic in Pavullo said Riccò admitted a blood transfusion.

“On his own,” explained the medic of Riccò’s admission, “he had done an auto-transfusion of blood that had been kept at in a refrigerator at home for 25 days.” He added that Riccò was afraid that “he had stored the blood poorly.”

Riccò, however, changed his story after meeting with Torri on April 13. He denies that he transfused his blood and that he made any admission to the medic.

The CONI may open a doping case against Riccò after its doctor examines the files. If so, it’s likely to stop Riccò from racing again by asking for a five-year to lifetime suspension.

Related links

Ricco on defence in face of another doping ban

Ricco suspended by Vacansoleil team

Ricco investigation official, transferred to cardiology

Ricco admits blood transfusion caused hospitalisation

July 2008: Ricco positive for EPO at Tour de France