VeloNews | Riccardo Ricco tests positive.

The French anti-doping agency (AFLD) confirmed Thursday that Italian climbing sensation Ricardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) has tested positive for new variant of the blood booster erythropoietin (EPO).

Ricco, winner of two mountain stages and ninth in the overall standings, provided a urine sample which contained the banned substance CERA (Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator).

Ricco was questioned by gendarmes before the start of Thursday’s 12th stage between Lavlanet and Narbonne. He was then driven away by them in a Saunier Duval team car.

Ricardo Ricco

Ricco was one of the riders particularly targeted by the AFLD during the race and had been tested at least four times, including his victories on stages six and nine.

Like synthetic erythropoietin (rEPO), CERA was developed to as a treatment for the anemia that results from chronic kidney disease. Unlike single injections of rEPO, CERA interacts with erythropoietin receptors and has a longer-lasting effect.

The often brash and outspoken Ricco finished second in this year’s Giro d’Italia and has won stages six and nine at this year’s Tour de France. He finished Wednesday’s stage 2:29 behind Australian Cadel Evans in the overall standings, putting him in ninth place.

Ricco becomes the third rider to fail a doping test in this year’s race after Spanish riders Moises Duenas (Barloworld) and Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) both tested positive for rEPO.

Much was made of the fact that Ricardo Ricco worshiped Marco Pantani, and he certain climbed like the now dead Italian. Now it appears that Ricco’s legs were not entirely natural talent …

Now, while I’m not sure about ASO and AFLD’s tactic of testing a rider over and over and over again, as it comes across as a witchhunt … sometimes, when what you’re seeing seems too good to be true, it probably is. If this sport is to survive, we need to get rid of the dopers, but it has to be done in a way that protects the rights of the riders.

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