Riccardo Riccò was formally fired by his Vacansoleil team on Saturday for breaking team regulations, according to a statement released by the Dutch team.
Already suspended, the 27-year-old Riccò was asked to explain himself to the team management after he aroused suspicion upon his admission to the hospital last week, suffering from kidney problems due to a suspected blood infection.
Media reports cited unnamed medical staff who suggested that Riccò made himself ill by attempting autologous doping, with blood that had not been stored properly. Autologous blood doping – the reinjection of one’s own stored blood – is viewed as an effective means of boosting endurance and avoiding detection by anti-doping tests.
While afforded the opportunity to defend himself against charges of blood-doping, team managers were clearly not convinced by Riccò’s explanation and fired him following a conference call with the rider.
In a statement released on Saturday, the team said that there was ample evidence to warrant the rider’s firing:
“The Vacansoleil-DCM team has dismissed the rider Riccardo Riccò on February 19, effective immediately. The team began an internal investigation on Tuesday, February 8, following Riccò’s hospitalization. The initial results of that investigation caused the team to suspend the rider. As part of the continuing investigation, Riccò was given the opportunity to present his version of events leading to his hospitalization. The team has found that explanation to be wanting and has concluded that his immediate dismissal would be the only appropriate action. Riccò has been informed by registered letter that he has been justifiably dismissed for his violation of team rules.”
Riccò returned to competition in March after a 20-month suspension because of a positive test for CERA at the 2008 Tour de France. Now the rider, known for his brash and often-abrasive personality, faces two additional investigations, one criminal and the other disciplinary.
A prosecutor in Modena has opened an investigation and is now awaiting test results conducted by doctors when Riccò was admitted to the hospital.
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said it has also opened an investigation “on the basis of information which has appeared in the press.”
If found guilty by the courts, Riccò could be sentenced to prison for up to three years. If found to have violated doping rules for the second time in his once-promising career, Riccò risks a life-long suspension from competition.