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MILAN (VN) — Italian Luca Paolini received an 18-month ban Wednesday from cycling’s governing body for a cocaine positive at the 2015 Tour de France.
The decision may be backdated, but it would still prohibit the 39-year-old from racing this season. He will be eligible to return in 2017, when he will be 40 years old.
“The Anti-Doping Tribunal found the rider guilty of a non-intentional anti-doping rule violation (presence of a cocaine metabolite — benzoylecgonine) and imposed an 18-month period of ineligibility on the rider,” a UCI statement reads.
The UCI said it would publish the tribunal’s ruling on its website later Wednesday.
Team officials booted Paolini from the 2015 Tour on July 10. Test results from July 7, after the cobbled fourth stage to Cambrai, showed traces of cocaine in his system.
Paolini reasoned that it was technically an out-of-competition positive, which would not draw a ban, as he used the substance during a June training camp. It is unclear how the cocaine could have lingered in his body until July 7 without the pre-Tour tests detecting it.
In December, Paolini revealed how he struggled with an addiction to sleeping medicine Benzodiazepine. That drug is not prohibited and Paolini said he purchased it with a prescription. However, he maintains he only used cocaine once.
“Benzodiazepine created a bad dependency,” Paolini said. “I needed it at night to rest, to confront the physical and mental effort of the next day. In the last two to three years, I always used it, at home and at the races. I was dependent. Then came cocaine. It was inevitable for me. I took it when I was alone at a pre-Tour training camp in mid-June. It made me open my eyes to the dependency I had on sleeping medication.”
Katusha avoided a team suspension due to multiple doping cases when the UCI ruled in February Paolini’s drug use was recreational. It gave him hope the anti-doping tribunal would show him the same leniency.
Paolini worked years in the service of leaders, helping Joaquím Rodríguez and Alexander Kristoff score their victories while wearing Katusha’s red colors. Paolini himself has also bagged wins, in the 2013 Giro d’Italia, the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and the 2015 Gent-Wevelgem.
Paolini had hoped to return to racing this season. He posted a photograph of himself training on his Katusha team bike while watching Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February and rode the Tour de Flanders sportive the day before the pros raced.
The news of his ban comes less than 24 hours after another Italian professional, Mattia Gavazzi, tested positive for cocaine for a third time. He failed a test as an amateur, then again with team Collage – CSF Inox in 2010, and again with team Amore & Vita – Selle SMP while at the 2015 Tour of Qinghai Lake. The UCI confirmed Gavazzi’s B sample positive for cocaine Tuesday.