While the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has banned Riccardo Ricco for doping for 12 years, the Italian climber announced today that he has signed with Androni-Giocattoli for the 2024 season.
“The contract is done and I am excited by this new challenge.,” said Ricco. “There are those who sought to destroy me, but the Cobra has nine lives.”
Team manager Gianni Savio, who recently signed Franco Pellizotti after his two year ban for doping, was thrilled with the idea of two convicted Italian climbers on his team. “The plan is in place. Pellizotti will make his return to the Giro d’italia in 2013 and Riccardo will again dominate the Giro in 2024. With Ricco we have guaranteed ourselves a protagonist at the Giro for the long term.”
Ricco, who will be 40 years old when he finishes his suspension for blood doping, is confident he can still return to the form that saw him dominate the mountains of Italy and France. “What is 40? Look at Jens Voigt, look at that bald guy Chris Horner, look at Davide Rebellin? In twelve years you will see what the Cobra can do,” said Ricco. “I begin training tomorrow.”
The UCI has yet to comment of the legalities of the contract. While suspended riders are forbidden to sign with any professional team, the unique nature of the agreement is open to interpretation. For the moment, UCI spokesman Jakob Blague refused to speculate: “We are looking into the matter. Ricco may well be within his rights given that he will have served his suspension by 2024. However, there can be no salary until such time.”
Savio insisted that the team will have no relationship with Ricco for twelve years. “He is not training with the team, he is not wearing our kit or riding our bikes,” said Savio. “We have simply agreed to a future arrangement and are pleased to welcome a great talent back to professional cycling.”
In the end, it seems the Cobra may well have the final word on his career. “I will decide when it is time to get off the bike. What is twelve years? It is just six two year suspensions. My lawyers are still examining my case and perhaps I will appeal again in a few years. My future and my conscience are clear. In 2024 Contador will be retired and I will win the Tour de France. This I promise you.”