"So, which of you lucky ladies wants to go for a Chicken Legend meal? I'm buying..."
WOULD YOU LIKE EPO WITH THOSE FRIES?
If nothing else, Riccardo Ricco has an immaculate sense of comic timing.
The last time a Grand Tour visited Ireland, in 1998, Willy Voet’s mobile pharmacy cast a haemoglobin-hued pall over proceedings. Sixteen years later, as the Giro prepares to visit emerald shores, Italy’s answer to a one-man Pfizer band has upstaged the show with his own, unique brand of farce.
Ricco, already in the process of serving a twelve-year ban for a botched, self-administered blood transfusion, has been caught by Italian police purchasing EPO and testosterone, in a McDonald’s car park. Come for the Happy Meal and chocolate shake, stay for the oxygen vector doping: it’s certainly a more enticing advertisement than old Ronald and his creepy grin.
That the EPO was allegedly supplied from the stores of a local hospital merely adds to the B movie slapstick pastiche. Watch out for the hordes of Tuscan anaemics stopping for espressos at Chalet Reynard.
Ricco’s pursuit, you see - at least before these shenanigans - involved making attempts on the record times of the world’s most famous climbs. One can only assume that the fact that these records are almost universally held by convicted dopers is simply part of the fun, a kind of post-ironic two-fingered salute at Iban Mayo that says, ‘Whatever your 2004 EPO could do, mine can do better’. The problem is a punchline’s not quite so funny when it involves a trip to prison, and I doubt Porridge was ever required viewing in the Saunier Duval team bus.
Were it not for the fact that he is both mad and sad, Ricco’s use of EPO for recreational pursuits could almost be described as quaint. After all, he was on third-generation stuff-CERA back in 2008, when his impersonation of Marco Pantani, earring and all, still carried glorious rather than tragic associations.
Getting caught quoting Edgar Allen these days is the cycling equivalent of being nabbed for smoking round the back of the bike sheds after borrowing Danilo Di Luca’s lighter: tawdry, but showing a keen appreciation for cliché.
Then again, maybe Ricco simply doesn’t care whether he’s caught or not. A recent Twitter photograph shows him smiling and sunburnt, looking quite unlike a man beleaguered by repeated run-ins with the Carabinieri.
They do say that slapstick has a shorter shelf-life than most comedy. Aged just 30, Italy’s third most popular satirist behind Bepe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi might have proven too ridiculous for cycling and too predictable for laughs.
For his next trick, only a move to the UCI will suffice…
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH, UH HUH
738 – Number of days since Chris Froome finished outside the top ten in a stage race with an ignominious 123rd in the 2012 Tour of Romandie.
9 – Number of times world champion Rui Costa, yet to win a race, has finished second and third this season. Curse of the rainbow jersey, what curse?
Ricco wins on Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the 2007 Giro, accompanied all the way by his (ahem) blood brother Leonardo Piepoli:
How the Giro used to be; gorgeous black-and-white footage from Fiorenzo Magni's 1955 triumph.
On his 41st birthday, here's the finest descender of modern times, Paolo Savoldelli, dropping all his rivals in one fell, birdlike swoop.
April 30: Nibali Wibbali
April 23: Amstel Golden Oldies
April 16: Silly Season
April 9: Braking Away
April 2: No April Fools
March 26: Vincenzo NIbali and the 43 Eunuchs
March 19: Modern Life Is Rubbish
March 12: Black on the Chaingang
March 5: Holding On
Feburary 26: True Racing Returns
February 19: Just Deserts?
Seen a former professional cyclist peddling hard drugs at your local Wimpy? Got a killer Giro video to share? Get in touch @rouleurmagazine on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org by email.