Ricco potentially banned for 20 months; Dekker to Silence; Bettini's finale

Roundup for the 27-29 September

Prosecutors at the anti-doping tribunal of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) have asked that rider Riccardo Ricco be handed a 20-month ban 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.

He initially protested his innocence but, following a meeting with CONI officials, later admitted to his offence, even criticising testing procedures because he had passed many tests despite being doped.

Dekker signs with Silence-Lotto

In related news, Dutch cycling hope Thomas Dekker has signed a two-year deal with the Silence-Lotto team of Australian Cadel Evans, according to reports.

Dekker, formerly of the Rabobank team, is considered one of the country's biggest stage racing hopes and is reported by the De Telegraaf newspaper to have signed a two-year deal with the Belgian outfit.

The 24-year-old Dutchman, a former national time trial champion, stepped up a level last season when he won the difficult Tour of Romandie in Switzerland.

In recent years, however, Dekker has courted controversy.

He revealed last year he had been working with Michele Ferrari, the Italian sports doctor and trainer who claimed over a decade ago that the banned blood-booster EPO (erythropoietin) was no more harmful than orange juice.

Ferrari came to global prominence in the world of cycling when seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong admitted (in 2001) that he had worked with Ferrari, although the American said he had never used doping products.

Dekker and Rabobank fell out last month after the team's decision not to select him for the Tour de France.

At the time they said it was over fitness concerns, but Dutch media reported that Rabobank were unhappy with the rider's negative attitude to their anti-doping programme.

Evans has finished as runner-up with Silence-Lotto in the past two editions of the Tour.

Ballan succeeds Bettini at Worlds

Handing his coveted world title to countryman Alessandro Ballan was the second-best send-off Italian great Paolo Bettini could have wished for, he admitted in Varese on Sunday.

The only thing better would have been to keep the rainbow jersey he won in 2006 and 2007, and so become the fifth rider in history to win the world title three times.

Ballan, the 28-year-old who won last year's Tour of Flanders, succeeded the diminutive Bettini as the new world champion after a thrilling 260.2km race.

It left hosts Italy with more than one reason to feel emotional, but Bettini – who announced his retirement a day prior to his final race – was confident he was leaving the jersey in good hands.

"I feared last night that announcing my retirement would have shaken the team up a bit. But that wasn't the case," said Bettini, who finished 28th after giving up the chase of a leading group of riders during the final laps.

Riding home in the company of some of the men who have been his fiercest rivals, Bettini admitted it had been an emotional day in more ways than one.

"In the last few kilometres I was really touched by what some of my rivals were saying to me, especially (Spaniard) Alejandro Valverde," he said. "If I'd won it would have been sublime, but I'm leaving the rainbow jersey in good hands. I tried to escape a few times today, but too many riders just kept following my wheel."

Bettini, who won the 2004 Olympic crown, is one of the most decorated one-day riders of the past decade. But he was not alone in lighting up the competition this week, nor was he the last to decide it time to call it a day.

German sprinter Erik Zabel, a former six-time winner of the Tour de France's green jersey for the points competition, also announced it would be his final world championships race.

He will retire at the end of the season.

"I've had a lot of fun this season and managed to keep my main rivals on their toes. But I don't know if I can do it for another season, so I think it's the right time to stop," Zabel said.

Zabel, a 12-stage winner at the Tour de France and four-time winner of Milan-San Remo, will compete for the last time in Munster, Germany on October 3.

© AFP and BikeRadar 2008

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