Tuesday, 1 May 2007
End of the road for Basso?
The biggest question on the lips of most Pro Tour cycling fans at the start of the 2007 season now seems to have been answered. As most of Italy cheered Danilo Di Luca’s impressive victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, the cycling mad nation awoke to darker news on Monday. Their beloved Maglia Rosa Ivan Basso, already sidelined from the Tour de France, will now miss the Giro d’Italia, and has shocked his fans by voluntarily leaving cycling until he clears his name.
Many had expected the classy Italian rider to complete a Giro-Tour double, the first for many years. Others looked aghast at Discovery Channel’s decision to offer a rider implicated in one of the biggest doping scandals in a decade, Operacion Puerto, a place on their team. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, Basso was always set to be the season’s major story.
For Discovery boss Johan Bruyneel, the Italian’s signature last Autumn was a gamble, and a controversial one at that. Nobody doubted Basso’s ability to deliver results, but his ability to last an entire season without attracting further controversy was less certain. In the last two weeks the thread has slowly unravelled, leaving both Basso and Bruyneel to pick up the pieces after their brief encounter.
First came the news that all Puerto implicated riders, including Basso, were no longer welcome at the Tour de France. Next the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) announced last week that they were re-opening their file on Basso, inviting him to an initial hearing this Wednesday. Such distractions, virtually on the eve of his major remaining objective for the season, the Tour of Italy, were not what he’d been hoping for.
Basso was now effectively left high and dry, and it emerged yesterday that it was he who had made the request to leave Discovery. The US outfit reluctantly agreed, but it was hard to see what else they could have done. It looks like being a sad end to what could have been an illustrious career. CONI now have possession of seven bags of blood believed to belong to the rider, and are pressing him to give a DNA sample.
Even if Basso further declines to give a sample, blood from a recent random control test is available for comparison, and will be used by CONI’s investigating lawyers. The latest twists have reportedly reduced Basso to tears, and his remarks last week about ‘time bomb justice’ suggest that he knows what is coming.
A large part of me hopes that this likeable rider can clear his name. A powerful but elegant rider on the bike, he was also a credit to his profession with his gentle and courteous manner off it. Basso had the potential to be every bit as good as Lance Armstrong, but without any of the Texan’s brashness. It certainly doesn’t look good for the Italian, and the lasting damage that this whole sordid conspiracy to cheat has done to the image of an already shop-soiled sport is of grave concern. Now the question all fans should be asking is simple: “Where does cycling go from here?”.