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"It changes the mood, the rhythm of sleep, and when you stop, you go into depression. You become addicted. Yes, I tried to stop but it was a tough fight. I had panic attacks, anxiety, discomfort. It is not a good li...

Photo: Sirotti




27.12.2015 @ 10:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Luca Paolini has made a confession in La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Italian has admitted that he has been addicted t to sleeping pills and recognizes that it led him to using cocaine two weeks before the start of the 2015 Tour de France. He has started the process of rehabilitations and now wants to go public with his story so that others do not make the same mistakes.


On July10, during the Tour de France, the UCI announced that they had provisionally suspended Paolini (38, Team Katusha) for "an adverse analytical finding for cocaine (benzoylecgonine metabolite)" in a sample collected at the Doping Control on July 7 after the fourth stage of the French race. The case is now in the hands of the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal.


Five and a half months later, Paolini has finally broken the silence and in an interview in La Gazzetta dello Sport he describes his fall and his recovery. "Thanks to the cocaine episode, I am again a person. I am revived. If this is the price to pay to feel good as a person, I am more than willing to accept it," he says.


The Italian tells how he started his descent into hell "when I took sleeping pills." "Its main asset is the benzodiazepine. But it creates a damn addiction. I needed a night to rest if I wanted to be ready to meet the physical and mental effort of the next day. I started in 2004 when my brother died. The real problem is the everyday life, big and small problems , and all this adds to the sport, stress, stress. Mentally it affects you much. That's where the drugs come into play, it is sad. And I made those mistakes with cocaine. I take full responsibility and I have no excuses. But I tell you this story so that people do not repeat the same mistakes. And much has been said about my character," he says.



The pressure came was created by the sporting demands. "I have always been proud. I have never sought help from others. The years pass, there are expectations. I was always there to help the leaders, from Kristoff to Rodriguez, and I was always riding. Twenty days after Lombardy I was in the saddle, there were the races in January, the classics, the Giro, the Tour: all this finally destabilized me. Sports tensions, the schedule, errors, responsibilities. Due to this I thought of a drug that could make me sleep well to be ready for the next day. In the morning I woke up and it was great, adrenaline displaced the benzodiazepine. But the problem came when my riding was over. Sport reflects the situation of today's society. We have a the crisis, with less teams, less riders, fewer jobs. I do not know if I will get another opportunity to pin a race number but this is the greatest lesson I received: I do not have to hide everything inside myself when I have problems. I need to ask for help," he explains.


Paolini acknowledges that he has used the pills to sleep, "always in the past two or three years, at home and at the races." "I was addicted. I bought them with a regular recipe: it is not forbidden. It was never enough. It changes the mood, the rhythm of sleep, and when you stop, you go into depression. You become addicted. Yes, I tried to stop but it was a tough fight. I had panic attacks, anxiety, discomfort. It is not a good life. The doctors wondered how it would work. The worst came at night when the benzodiazepines are gaining strength. You lose lucidity. And it leads to cocaine. For me it was inevitable, I did it almost without being aware of it. I was alone that night, I was alone during the two weeks of training in the mountains in mid-June before the Tour when I took cocaine. And I can not forgive myself. I am a husband and a father, a leading sportsman, I was an example for so many guys. I have disappointed a generation that believed in me. This is what hurts me," he laments.


He says that the Katusha doctors asked him not to take the pills, "but the addiction was stronger than anything else so I took them secretly. You immerse yourself in a different reality and you only realize the effects later when it is too late."



Cocaine was the last step. "I quickly realized that this was no accident. I killed my sporting career but I was reborn as a human being. No, I do not know if I would do it again. Cocaine made me open my eyes and realize that I was suffering from sleeping pill addiction. My wife, children, friends, I could not do it alone and I asked for help. I started detoxification." He has spent two weeks in a clinic in Verona. "I was a slave of the sleeping pills and it was very sad. I started with an antagonist drug detox which deceived the addiction. It was a step I had to take. I took some time to listen to myself and this episode was a beautiful parentheses in my life, my most important victory. I was a slave and I've been able to come to terms with myself."


He is now focused on his family - he has two daughters at 15 and three years of age. "I'm more relaxed, balanced and calm. Before I was even afraid to introduce myself to other people," he says. He continued to ride in October when he suffered an injury as he broke a shoulder blad and three ribs. "I write all my feelings down and it's nice now that I'm a new person. I am no longer just thinking about cycling," he says.


Finally, he wants to send a message to young people. "It's good to be a champion, but we need to understand the signals from the body and mind. You think you're a superman but when you look in the mirror, uou see a man; if you're wrong, you will pay the price. You have to look for help. If you don't share your problems, you get to my situation. And I had to do this interview. I needed to talk and explain," he concludes in La Gazzetta .


In 2015 Paolini won Ghent-Wevelgem and had renewed his contract with  Katusha when he was suspended. Professional since 2000, he has both a stage win in the Vuelta and Giro and won classics like Omloop Het Nieuwsbald and Ghent-Wevelgem as well as a bronze medal at the 2004 World Championships. His teams were Mapei / Quickstep (2000-2005), Liquigas (2006-2007), Acqua & Sapone (2008-2010) and from 2010 Katusha. 



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