Thursday, 10 May 2007

Basso stuns cycling with 10-page doping confession...

With so much already written about the Ivan Basso saga, it only seems right to take stock of the sensational recent developments in the case and to ask the question, ‘what next?’ Events have moved quickly, quicker than many would have predicted. Within a week of parting company with the Discovery Channel team and returning to Italy to face an enquiry by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), Basso stunned the world of cycling by admitting his guilt.

To Basso the motivation behind his 10-page signed confession was clear. ‘I needed to liberate myself of the weight’, he told La Gazetta Dello Sport. Many will say that Basso’s hand was forced by the inevitable outcome of any DNA tests ordered by CONI, and that he tried to get away with things for as long as he could in the hope that he’d escape on a legal technicality. It’s fair to say that some of his confession doesn’t quite ring true. His remorse seems to be genuine, and is certainly very public, yet he states that the blood given in Madrid was never actually transfused. Is he simply trying to protect his past triumphs against the probing finger of suspicion? He also states that he wishes he’d confessed it all in June 2006, right after his victory in the Giro D’Italia. Why wait eleven months and issue so many vehement denials in the meantime if this is so? Why such an apparently burning desire to come clean if he’d never actually used his stored blood illegally? The list of questions that could be asked of the rider is seemingly endless.

Almost inevitably his huge fan club will applaud Basso’s soul-searching honesty, and hope that he can find his atonement, returning to the pro-peleton much like David Millar once his suspension is served. Certainly at his age, still only 29, a return would not be out of the question. He now misses all possibility of dominating the Grand Tours until his retirement as Armstrong did, and will never join the exclusive club of five times Tour De France winners as once looked so likely. Perhaps for a rider of Basso’s potential this is punishment enough?

There will no doubt be a sizeable faction that says Basso should never be allowed to return at all. Recently his old boss at CSC, Bjarne Riis, has been very critical of the Italian. Yesterday, however, Riis was more conciliatory, quoted in the Danish press as saying that he’d welcome a Basso comeback, and that he was full of regret that the rider’s ‘foolishness’ has robbed us of the spectacle of seeing the rider realise his full potential. A cynic would probe Riis’ words closely, reminding him that he was never himself completely above suspicion, but on the face of things I find it hard to disagree with his measured response.

Basso has always been a good ambassador for the sport, and a high profile ‘reformed character’ to lead the crusade against doping surely can’t do too much harm. To condemn Basso utterly is to be na├»ve about cycling’s doping culture. His predicament is, sadly, nothing new for this sport, but if he is willing to come back, race clean, and be competitive, he could be just the positive symbol the sport needs as it licks its wounds and tries to rebuild its image.

He now plans to holiday with his family to find ‘serenity’, and will then return home to focus once more on his bike. I feel certain that we haven’t heard the last of Ivan Basso, and hope that justice can be swift so that the sport can move on from this dreadful phase. Out of adversity and into greatness? We can all hope.

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