Luca Paolini’s ban for cocaine ended on January 10 but the Italian Classics rider has told Gazzetta dello Sport that he has officially retired from racing and instead has invested in a historic coffee bar in central Como.
Paolini tested positive for cocaine during the 2015 Tour de France, while riding for the Katusha team. He claimed he took the drug in June during a training camp to help deal with an addiction to sleeping medicine Benzodiazepine, but was banned from racing for 18 months after a drawn out case because the drug was detected in competition.
Paolini had hoped to return to the peloton despite turning 40 on Tuesday. However, teams preferred to look to the future rather than give him a second chance.
“I trained hard, I was back on form but there was no way back, Paolini told Gazzetta dello Sport on Wednesday.
“At Astana, Vinokourov told me that because of my ban he could not hire me. Coming from him that made me laugh… I would’ve liked to race with Bahrain-Merida, but the Arabian culture doesn’t accept the minimum error when it comes to alcohol and drugs.
“Despite everything I set myself a deadline of finding something by Christmas. But nothing came together. I’m bitter about it. I know that I hurt cycling, but before that, I’d given so much too. The Italian national coach Cassani called me a few times but the Italian Federation didn’t get in touch, even to call me an idiot.”
Turning a new page
Paolini was an experienced classics rider and often a key part of the Italian national team. He started his career at Mapei and was a close friend of Paolo Bettini, helping him secure many of his biggest victories. Paolini won a bronze medal in the 2004 World Championships in Verona and also finished on the podium at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders. He won a stage at the 2013 Giro d’Italia and wore the pink jersey. He also won the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem in 2015.
After taking time to overcome his addiction to Benzodiazepine he is now happier and looking forward to his post-race career.
“I’m turning a page. This is a new start for me, it’s a gift for my next 40 years,” he said.
The bar is in the centre of Como and he has other plans, some linked to cycling.
“I’ve got some ideas in my mind, projects linked to tourism and cycling and clothing,” he said. “Cycling will remain part of my life. It’s just that racing will no longer be part of it.”
Paolini kept his addiction to Benzodiazepine a secret for several years and revealed his family and especially his daughter eventually helped him overcome his dependency.
“My family played an important part in helping me resolve my problem,” he explained. “The most difficult situation was with my daughter Gaia who is now 16. When you make a mistake like I did, you feel like shit because you’re supposed to be an example. I’m lucky, she’s smart and understands so much. She helped me.”