Italian Ivan Basso will battle for the Tour de France’s podium over the next four days in the Pyrenees. The battle is an easy one, considering the one he has already won: acceptance from his colleagues and the race’s organisers.
Basso left out of the backdoor of his team’s hotel on the eve of the Tour de France four years ago in Strasbourg. The Operación Puerto investigation in Spain finally caught up with him and linked him to blood doping doctor, Eufemiano Fuentes.
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“I am happy with the acceptance of the organisers, Christian Prudhomme and Jean-François Pescheux,” Basso told Cycling Weekly. “I am in love with this race, it gave me a lot and they were good to me since day one this year in Rotterdam.”
Since leaving his hotel in Strasbourg, Basso received a two-year ban for the bags of blood he had stored in Fuentes’ offices. After first denying, he served out his suspension and then came back a changed man with team Liquigas. Now, he works with respected cycling trainer Aldo Sassi and the two post his blood values online for transparency purposes.
Basso finished in the top five of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España last year, and now, after winning this year’s Giro d’Italia, has returned to the Tour de France.
The Tour de France did give him a lot: the white jersey of best young rider in 2002, a stage win in 2004 and twice on the podium behind Lance Armstrong (third in 2004 and second 2005).
“Ivan paid his price and he also paid for the other riders. He’s returned as an open book,” said Liquigas sports director, Stefano Zanini. “We have found support from both the fans and organisers.”
Zanini revealed that Basso was stressed in the first days of the Tour de France. He said it was the same as win Basso made his return to the Giro d’Italia last year.
“Everyday there it was an exam, how would he do on the first day, the first mountain stage, the first time trial… It is like that at the Tour too; he just didn’t know how the people would accept him.”
Basso’s battle is no longer for acceptance, though. He wants to place on the podium in one week’s time in Paris.
“The battle for this Tour is between two riders: Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck,” continued Basso. “I am not sure about [finishing on] the podium, but I have to continue to believe it is all possible. There still four difficult stages to come, where anything can happen.”
Ahead of the four stages in the Pyrenees, Basso sits 11th overall, 5’30” behind current leader Schleck.
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