The UCI has decided to extend the sanction against Riccardo Riccó from 20 months to 24 months. The Italian climber, who tested positive for CERA at last year's Tour de France, will now be eligible to ride on 17 July 2010, which means he will miss both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France next season. Riccó has already signed a contract with the Italian team Ceramica Flaminia for his return, which is now delayed by four months as a result of this decision.
The reason for the UCI actions is complicated and relates to the question of jurisdiction. In the Riccó case, both the Italian anti-doping authorities and the French anti-doping authorities opened investigations. The French anti-doping authority, the AFLD, imposed a two year sanction on Riccó, the standard penalty for a first offense.
In Italy, the case followed a more complicated path. In his hearing before CONI, the Italian anti-doping authorities, Riccó admitted to using doping at the Tour and admitted to consulting with the banned Dr. Santuccione. The doping violation earned him a two year sanction, while the visits to Santuccione added six months. Because Riccó provided information to the investigators, though, the Italian anti-doping authority CONI recommended a sanction of 18 months. This recommendation was over-ruled by the Italian anti-doping court, who makes the final sanctioning decisions, and Riccó received an enforced-vacation of 24 months. The rider then challenged the decision at the sports arbitration court, who found in his favor. Result? An 18 month ban.
Now comes the UCI decision to uphold the French sanction, and invalidate all the torturous proceedings in Italy. The UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani explained the situation in this way: "Yesterday, the UCI recognized as valid the decision taken by the AFLD (the French anti-doping authorites) which imposed a disqualification of 24 months on Riccó and not the 20 months established by TAS," the sports arbritration court. "CONI does not have the necessary competence to adjudicate the Riccó case, competence which - on the basis of the question of territoriality - resides with the AFLD. Therefore, the UCI accepts the sanction decided by the French Agency," Carpani continued. In relation to Riccó's cooperation with the CONI investigation, meanwhile, Carpani said that the UCI had not received any documentation on that aspect of the case, but the cycling union could choose to offer the Italian a reduced sanction. In the meantime, Riccó can now appeal the new UCI-imposed sanction to the sports arbitration court, which would mark his second visit before the court. That sound you hear is Riccó's lawyer laughing all the way to the bank.
The situation has taken a truly bizarre turn. It's hard to understand exactly why the UCI decided to intervene so late in the proceedings. Clearly, there is more to the story than the Riccó case, and it seems likely that the UCI here seeks to set a precedent that privileges the decision of the Federation where the violation occurred over any sanction - or non-sanction - by the rider's home federation.
The astute reader will now understand where this story is headed, and it leads directly to the dispute between the Italian anti-doping authorities and the Spanish Federation over the fate of Alejandro Valverde. Valverde, who is slated to ride the Clasicá San Sebastián this weekend, received a two year ban from the Italians as a consequence of evidence they argue links the Caisse d'Épargne rider with Operation Puerto. The Spanish Federation has refused to recognize the ban, and asserted their prerogative to decide the fates of their riders.
Not so fast, says the UCI. The decision to privilege the French decision in the Riccó case suggests the end game for the Valverde case. The UCI has now said that the national anti-doping authorities have jurisdiction over riders who commit offenses on their territory, regardless of where those riders may be licensed. Valverde's legal defense has hinged on this question of jurisdiction, and the UCI decision in the Riccó case suggests that this argument now sits on a very shaky foundation. The UCI has promised a decision in the Valverde case for some time now. With this announcement in relation to Riccó, it seems likely the Valverde decision will follow shortly.