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Italian cyclist Ricardo Ricco (centre), seen in July at a hearing, admitted use of an advanced version of EPO. ((Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images))

Cyclist Riccardo Ricco was banned two years by the Italian Olympic Committee on Thursday after admitting to doping during the Tour de France.

Ricco tested positive for CERA, an advanced version of the blood booster EPO, after winning two stages of this year's Tour. He admitted taking the banned substance in July and was hoping that would lead to a reduced ban.

The Italian Olympic body, CONI, reduced the doping part of the ban by six months from the maximum two years. But it also added six months because Ricco had gone to a physician who had already been banned for doping violations, Carlo Santuccione.

"I'm very disappointed and bitter. I expected better understanding," Ricco said after leaving the hearing. "But I made a mistake and it's fair that I pay."

On Monday, CONI's anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri had recommended a 20-month ban.

Ricco's lawyers indicated they would likely appeal to the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"Something is not working in sports justice, because if Ricco had not collaborated he would have received the same ban — two years," Ricco's lawyer Alessandro Sivelli said. "If he had stayed quiet, Santuccione's name would never have come out."

The ban will expire on July 30, 2010 — precluding Ricco from racing in the next two editions of the Tour and Giro d'Italia.

Spends time in jail

Ricco finished second to Alberto Contador in this year's Giro, then was kicked out of this year's Tour de France and fired by the Saunier-Duval team after testing positive on July 17.

He won the sixth and ninth stages of the Tour in spectacular fashion — the second victory coming with a long solo breakaway on one of the race's toughest mountain stages.

Taken away by French police, the Italian rider was questioned and spent a night in a French jail before being investigated by CONI upon his return to Italy.

Former teammate Leonardo Piepoli was also fired by Saunier-Duval, which lost its sponsor.

Even though Piepoli did not test positive, he was released for violating the team's ethical code. Spanish media later reported that Piepoli had admitted to his team that he took the same form of EPO as Ricco.

CONI is still investigating Piepoli.