Italian cyclist Riccardo Ricco was on Thursday banned for two years by the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) after he tested positive for EPO during the Tour de France.
Ricco, 24, was suspended from riding by CONI in July after admitting to using the banned blood-booster. He was kicked off the Tour de France and sacked by his Saunier-Duval team after testing positive following the fourth stage time-trial.
Ricco today admitted he was "very disappointed and bitter" at the ban, and said he had hoped for "more understanding" from CONI.
He initially protested his innocence but following a meeting with CONI officials, he admitted to his offence, even criticising testing procedures because he had passed many tests despite being doped.
Ricco's sanction entails bans of 18 months for the EPO doping offence and a further six months for having consulted disgraced doctor Carlo Santuccione, the Ansa news agency reported.
Santuccione is suspected of playing a key role in a doping affair that came to be known as "oil for drugs", and was served a life ban from working with athletes in December 2007.
According to Ansa, Ricco will be free to ride again from July 30, 2010.
Until recently, the new strain of EPO used by Ricco, called CERA (Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator), was notoriously difficult to detect. Since July, French experts have also pioneered a blood sample test for CERA, which they say is even more efficient.
© AFP 2008