By all means give us flak for putting Riccardo Riccò on our cover, especially if you think we’re somehow “justifying” or “promoting” a doper (we, naturally, disagree). Just don’t ever suggest that life isn’t slightly more titillating with the Cobra around.
We travelled to Serramazzoni, high in the Appennini emliani, to interview Riccò for our “Banned Issue” on November 23rd of last year.
Here’s what happened next…
Monday, November 23th
Riccò assures us that the shame of his 2008 Tour exit, plus 18 months of soul-searching and the birth of his first child have given him a new perspective and new commitment to riding clean. Then, however, he rather undoes the good work with a fit of giggles when we remind him of his frankly ridiculous, CERA-fuelled attacks in that 2008 Tour.
“What, you think I was slow?” he smirks. “I was going like the others. The others were going as well. Maybe a bit less than me... It’s not as though I was the only one riding strongly. But yeah, I was strong. Maybe too strong….”
Friday, November 27th
Over breakfast in London’s Sanderson hotel, we tell Mark Cavendish about our trip to see Riccò. The Manxman practically recoils at the mere mention of the “Cobra”.
“To be honest, when I see him, I think I’ll have to fight the urge to get off my bike and hit him,” the Cav seethes. “It’s his lack of remorse… You see, he thinks that everyone’s doing it. People look at what I’m doing and think that I must be cheating. But cycling’s in the forefront of anti-doping and that’s why I can win. Everyone was complaining this year that the Tour wasn’t exciting but it’s not exciting because you don’t have guys like Riccò going away and killing everyone. The doped guys used to be the ones who would ride away at the end of stages. Now everyone’s fucked after 80 kilometres and it’s the one who’s least fucked who wins.”
Thursday, December 3rd
Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) posts to Twitter: “Read on magazines that cobra and salbaneo* ‘have learnt the lesson’ and dream about coming back in the Giro. it makes me puke”
*”El Salbaneo” or “The Goblin” is Emanuele Sella’s nickname in his local, vicentino dialect.
Friday, December 11th
A bus smashes into Riccò and his new Bianchi bike while he trains near Maranello, home of Ferrari, close to Serramazzoni. The bike is destroyed. Riccò ends up in a ditch, largely unhurt.
Thursday, December 31st
Procycling’s February issue, with Riccò on the cover, hits newsstands in the UK. Predictably, we take a lot of flak.
Tuesday, January 12th
Clearly latching onto his comments about Riccò in Procycling, journalists at HTC-Columbia’s training camp in Majorca bait Cavendish with more questions about the Italian. As usual, Cav doesn’t disappoint.
"It's like a parasite coming back into the sport,” the sprinter bristles. "It's not the fact of what he did, because everyone can make a mistake. But he doesn't see it as a mistake. He's not even sorry about it."
Wednesday, January 13th
We get a call from colleagues at the Gazzetta dello Sport in Milan. Can we forward our feature on Riccò, plus the quotes from Cavendish? We do as they ask…
Thursday, January 14th
La Gazzetta publishes an interview with Riccò, most of it dedicated to Cavendish’s barbs.
He may have been out of the sport for a while, but when it comes to sound bites, Riccò is clearly nearing his vintage best.
“Cavendish is at the peak of his career and, so to speak, he can say what he wants,” he argues, taking his time to warm up. “I’m always in the wrong and I can only respond when I see him on the road. However, what he thinks and says doesn’t interest me. I can only assure people that I’m training scrupulously and I’m already at a very good level.”
The journalist, Claudio Ghisalberti, reads him Cavendish’s quotes from Procycling – specifically the one about “fight[ing] the urge to get off my bike and hit him”.
Riccò seems taken aback.
“He said that? Ok, I’ll take the punishment. Not only on the bike but the punches as well. I’ll keep quiet [laughs]. But I don’t even know him! And he doesn’t know me. How can he say something like that?! He’s really gone overboard this time…”
While, later in the piece, the threat of reprisals clearly hasn’t made too deep an imprint on Riccò’s consciousness – “What’s his name again?… Cavendish, that’s it” – he at least seems familiar with Pinotti. He should be, the two were team-mates at Saunier Duval in 2006.
Ghisalberti relays (or re-tweets) the Italian time-trial champion’s comments about him and Sella.
“I’m sorry for him,” Riccò says. “He should rest and look after his stomach. Maybe he doesn’t realize that I’ll come back having served a justified ban, and not because I’ve been granted some kind of mercy.”
Friday, January 15th (no doubt)
We get more flak for giving Riccò yet more coverage and reveling in his capacity to generate headlines. We feel ever so slightly guilty…