2009 is set to be the year of the comeback. After Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis, it now seems almost certain that former Italian classics winner Michele Bartoli will race again, most likely with the new ISD team directed by his former team mate Lucas Scinto.

ISD team manager Angelo Citracca revealed during the team?s presentation on Sunday night that he is working on signing Bartoli as the team?s 21st rider. Britain’s Ian Stannard is already part of the team for 2009.

?If you ask me how true the idea (of signing Bartoli) is, I?d say 99%. We?re working at reaching an agreement and things could be sorted out within the next 15 days. We?ll see what happens,? Citracca said.

Bartoli is now 39 but has been training with Ivan Basso over the Christmas holidays and Citracca revealed that tests have shown the former Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour of Lombardy winner is as strong as when he retired in 2004.

Citracca and Scinto admitted they were aware of the reports in the Italian press from 2007 that Michele Bartoli could be implicated in Operacion Puerto and accepted that he may face questioning by Italian anti-doping inspectors in Rome. However it has not stopped them talking to Bartoli.

They questioned on what evidence Bartoli was implicated in Puerto and justified their decision to consider him for their team by saying there were other riders in other teams who had been implicated in the Spanish investigation but who are still racing.

Operacion Puerto has been formally closed in Spain by the judge handling the case but a final appeal has been made to re-open the case. Under Italian law the evidence from the case can be used to ban athletes.

Under UCI rules, a rider has to be on the UCI?s anti-doping register for six months before competing. This would delay Bartoli?s comeback but the ISD team said Bartoli has been registered for anti-doping testing since November, and so could in theory return in time for the Giro d?Italia in May.

Unless he is first placed under investigation by Italian anti-doping investigators.

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