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Óscar Freire calls for lifetime ban for Riccardo Riccò

Three-time world champion Óscar Freire has some harsh words for controversial Italian rider Riccardo Riccò, who was hospitalized this week after what Italian authorities believe might be a possible botched blood transfusion. Riccò has yet to speak directly to authorities, but Italian officials are following up on alleged statements by…

Three-time world champion Óscar Freire has some harsh words for controversial Italian rider Riccardo Riccò, who was hospitalized this week after what Italian authorities believe might be a possible botched blood transfusion.

Riccò has yet to speak directly to authorities, but Italian officials are following up on alleged statements by Riccò to doctors that suggested he accidentally injected himself with contaminated blood.

The Riccò news, who is coming off a ban for CERA-EPO during the 2008 Tour de France, has rocked the cycling community, already struggling with trying to regain its credibility among fans and media after a seemingly endless string of doping scandals.

Freire told the Spanish daily El Correo that he hopes Riccò will never race his bike professionally again.

“I hope they ban him for life,” Freire told El Correo. “I try to do things in the right way, but more and more I realize that there are more crazies in this sport. I don’t which sport they’re doing. Cases like this discourage you because the public thinks all of us are the same.”

Freire, who turns 35 next week, says cases like Riccò’s are the worst thing that cycling needs right now.

“Now there are more and more ways for people to respect the anti-doping rules, but even with this, there are some who think they are smarter and they take risks, and end up damaging this sport. I would like to be able to tell the fans that all this is going to end, but I don’t even know myself,” he continued. “When I began, the public looked at us as heroes, now it’s the complete opposite. It’s the worst thing that’s happened to this sport.”

Freire, second in Thursday’s stage at the Mallorca Challenge, says he will likely retire after 2012 unless he wins the rainbow for a record fourth time.

“Only if I could wear the rainbow jersey would I ride in 2013,” he said. “There’s hardly anyone left of those that started racing when I did. But last year, only three riders won three classics: Cancellara, Gilbert and me. If health accompanies you, cycling is easy.”

Freire’s growing pessimism about cycling carries over to the latest protests among riders and teams over the ongoing debate about banning ear-pieces in all cycling events. Freire’s been around the block long enough to know why the riders appear so united.

“It appears that the riders have united themselves, but it’s only because the issue of the ear-pieces is in the interest of the directors and the teams,” Freire said. “When something is not aligned with the directors and teams, the riders will fall into disunity once again. I will just keep following my own way.”

For 2011, Freire will skip the Tour de France and focus on Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold Race and a run at a fourth world title. And try to keep his spirits up in the meantime.