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Riccó indicted, returned to Italy

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French Gendarmerie drag Riccardo Riccò

French Gendarmerie drag Riccardo Riccò (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Disgraced cyclist Riccardo Riccò

Disgraced cyclist Riccardo Riccò (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott) was still hoping

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott) was still hoping (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Medical equipment found in his hotel

After spending the night in the police station, Italian Riccardo Riccó was indicted on charges of "use of poisonous substances" in a court in Foix, France, Friday and then escorted to the Italian border where he was met by his mother and girlfriend. Riccó was removed from the Tour de France before stage 12 on Thursday after receiving news that he had tested positive for EPO in a control taken after stage four in Cholet.

Riccó has asked for the counter-analysis of his sample to be performed, and if the result is confirmed, he could face up to two years jail time and fines on top of possible sporting sanctions.

"I'm very bitter. I spent a night in the police station and it was like being in prison," Riccó told RAI television. "The magistrate listened to what I had to say. They searched my bags but only found some vitamins that we all use and so they decided to let me go home."

In court, Riccó denied using EPO, but refused to answer the question for the Italian television reporter, saying that he would hire a lawyer and begin his defense in the coming days. He also dismissed his being fired by the team as a normal procedure. "It's the standard routine of the teams, that's what they have to do. I'm going to ask for the counter-analysis and then we'll see."

Riccó's statements were contrary to the prosecutor, Antoine Leroy's testimony that medical supplies including syringes and equipment for intrevenous drips were found, but were unused, in his hotel room. According to AFP, the prosecutor said in the first searches, "there were no doping substances as such" found.

The Italian's 'non-negative' doping test for the banned blood booster EPO resulted in him being fired from his Saunier Duval-Scott squad, and has threatened the future of that team.

"[It is] highly likely that we will withdraw our sponsorship after this affair," said Thierry Leroy, general director of Saunier Duval. "If indeed we are faced with a case of organised doping, it is clear that our company will ask those who have managed the team for damages."

Team manager Mauro Gianetti denied that there was any organised doping on the team, and said he was shocked and bitter about Riccó's failed test. He responded to the harsh criticism by Tour director Christian Prudhomme, saying he understood and felt cheated by riders he had trusted.

Not only did Gianetti fire Riccó, but also stage ten winner Leonardo Piepoli. Gianetti confirmed to RAI that he had not yet received any news of further positive doping tests, not from Piepoli nor Cobo, but said he had spoken with Piepoli and "could not get any convincing answers, and I do not want to have more doubts or give confidence to people."

"I have personal doubts about Piepoli: after talking with him I felt that he could not be trusted. At the moment I have no doubts about Cobo," he added. "But what happened is absurd: we are at the mercy of decisions made by riders when they are away from us."

In the team's official statement, Gianetti said, "We have always paid close attention to what our riders are doing, and have always demanded an irreproachable attitude to their profession and to our code of ethics." He went on to insist that Riccó gave his guarantee that he had never used illegal substances.

"We are the victims of the deceitful behaviour of those who put our sponsors' investments and the jobs of so many honest people at risk with the loathsome purpose of improving their cycling performance."

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