The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) issued a two-year ban to Riccardo Ricco on Thursday after the rider admitted that he engaged in doping during this year’s Tour de France.

After winning two stages of the Tour, Ricco has tested positive for CERA, or Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator, which is an advanced variety of blood booster erythropoietin (EPO). Ricco has been riding on the UCI ProTeam Saunier Duval-Scott since 2006, but was ejected from the team due to his doping violations.

The 25-year-old climbing specialist was hoping his admission would entail a reduced ban, but got the maximum penalty due to another offense.

CONI reduced the doping part of the ban by six months from the ma¬¬ximum two years. But they also added six months because Ricco had gone to Carlo Santuccione, a physician who had already been penalized for doping infringements.

“I’m very disappointed and bitter. I expected better understanding,’’ Ricco said. “But I made a mistake and it’s fair that I pay.’’

Ricco’s lawyers indicated they would likely appeal to the Court of Ar¬¬bit¬ra¬tion for Sport (CAS).

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

The ban expires on July 30, 2010, disallowing Ricco from participating in the next two editions of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

Roche, the pharmaceutical company which developed CERA, has been involved in a controversy several months ago. It started when WADA president John Fahey had issued a warning to dopers that during its manufacture, Roche implanted a molecule to help anti-doping officials to detect its illicit use. The company has denied Fahey’s claim, saying CERA does not contain said stealth molecule.