Ivan Basso is back at the Tour de France four years after he left it in disgrace, caught up in the Operación Puerto doping investigation.

“The blackest moment of my life,” Basso told French sports paper L’Equipe.

After Lance Armstrong had retired in 2005, Basso was a favourite to win the 2006 Tour de France after twice placing on the podium in the previous years. His problem, though, was that he had his blood stored in the Madrid offices of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

Fuentes’ offices were raided during the Giro d’Italia in May 2006 as part of a doping investigation called Operation Puerto. Basso went on to win the Giro d’Italia by nearly 10 minutes, ignored accusations that he was “Birillo” in Fuentes’ files and prepared to win the Tour de France.

Under mounting pressure and the Tour’s review of the investigation papers, Basso and others linked to Fuentes, including Jan Ullrich, were forced to leave the Tour de France. In Strasbourg, they had already passed the medical controls, shown themselves to the public at the team presentation in and selected their gearing for the opening prologue, but their race was over before it began.

“Four years after leaving the Tour, out the service door of the hotel,” continued Basso, “I must say that I would not mind getting back on the podium.”

Basso is prepared to return to the podium, too.

After Basso quietly changed in the years after he fought to defend himself and his links with Fuentes. He began working with respected cycling trainer, Italian Aldo Sassi, before making his return with team Liquigas at the end of 2008.

Sassi helped him place fourth at the Giro d’Italia and at the Vuelta a España last year. And this year? He won the Giro d’Italia for a second time, but in a display that appeared at a more human level.

Ivan Basso, Tour de France 2010, cobbles training, June 30

Ivan Basso trained on the cobbles on Wednesday

“In four years the peloton has made a dramatic generational change, my rivals are no longer the same. There are now riders like Contador, Andy Schleck, Robert Gesink or Kreuziger who have progressed, while I wasn’t racing. But, at the same time, I have finished in the top five in my last three Grand Tours.”

Also in those four years Basso was away, the Tour de France has seen the doping cases of Floyd Landis, Riccardo Riccò, Stefano Schumacher, Alexander Vinokourov and many others.

“Four years has been a long time and I thought I had seen the worst, but the scandals kept coming after mine and took the attention away from my own doping case.”

Prior to Basso’s doping case, he won the Tour’s best young rider competition in 2002 and won a stage in 2004 to La Mongie.

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