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Cyclist Ricco sacked over doping claims

Italian rider Riccardo Ricco returned to cycling last March following a 20-month suspension for doping.
Italian rider Riccardo Ricco returned to cycling last March following a 20-month suspension for doping.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Riccardo Ricco's contract terminated by his Dutch cycling team Vacansoleil
  • The move follows an internal investigation into claims he made blood transfusion
  • Ricco was admitted to an Italian hospital this month with a high fever and kidney problems
  • Italian media claimed the 27-year-old fell ill after injecting infected blood

(CNN) -- Riccardo Ricco was sacked by cycling team Vacansoleil on Saturday following its investigation into claims that the Italian gave himself a blood transfusion.

Ricco, who returned to the sport last March after being handed a 20-month ban for doping during the 2008 Tour de France, was admitted to a hospital in Modena earlier this month.

The 27-year-old, whose father said he had been suffering from a high fever and suspected kidney failure, was suspended by Vacansoleil on February.

Following the suspension the investigation was continued and Ricco got the opportunity to reflect his point of view on the matter," the Dutch team's website reported on Saturday.

"Ricco was fired on the spot today. The breach of internal rules and other indications justify this measure. Today Ricco was informed of the dismissal by a registered letter."

Ricco was fired on the spot today. The breach of internal rules and other indications justify this measure
--Vacansoleil team statement
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Vacansoleil, which signed Ricco on a two-year contract from Italy's Ceramica Flaminia last August, said it had "a zero-tolerance policy regarding the use of doping."

Italian media claimed Ricco had admitted to doctors that he had made himself ill by injecting contaminated blood, and the country's Olympic Committee subsequently said it had opened disciplinary proceedings against him.

Blood doping -- an action that increases the amount of red blood cells available to carry oxygen to the muscles -- has been a problem in cycling for a number of years, with disgraced 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis admitting last year that he blood-doped during his career.

Blood cells are not damaged by freezing, consequently a "blood doper" can remove blood from their body, safely store it, and re-inject it when increased aerobic capacity and stamina is needed.

However, if the blood is stored incorrectly, it can become infected, resulting in severe illness if transfused.

The practice of blood doping is banned by all official sporting governing bodies and Ricco now faces expulsion from competitive cycling if found guilty, as well as a possible jail sentence in a country where all forms of doping are classed as illegal.

Ricco has yet to react to the claims surrounding his hospital stay. He faces a possible life ban from cycling and a prison sentence.