'All my wins have been achieved in a proper and clean manner'
Ivan Basso said Tuesday that even though he had planned to blood dope for the 2006 Tour de France, he had actually never taken banned drugs or used blood transfusions.
Basso’s comments at a press conference follow his admission on Monday to the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) that he was involved in the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal that rocked last year’s Tour de France. “I have never taken banned substances and I have never employed blood doping,” last year’s Giro d’Italia champion told reporters in an emotional statement he read prior to the start of a press conference he had called.
“I did admit having attempted to use doping for the (2006) Tour de France and I am ready to pay the penalty for that,” Basso said. “All my wins have been achieved in a proper and clean manner and I have every intention of returning to action and continuing with the job I love once I have paid the penalty.”
The 29-year-old Basso, one of the favorites for this year’s Tour de France, was among dozens of riders implicated in the Operación Puerto doping affair. The scandal erupted before last year’s Tour de France when Spanish police uncovered an alleged blood-doping network run by doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Police seized nearly 200 bags of blood and a collection of doping products on a raid on Fuentes’s laboratory in Madrid. Police also seized Fuentes’s diaries full of codenames of cyclists and documents that suggested the doctor had been paid to manipulate and store blood.
The 2006 Tour was deprived of its top names, such as Basso and 1997 winner Jan Ullrich, who were barred from competing after their implication in the Puerto case.
This year, all three grand-tour organizers have been piling the pressure on cycling authorities to act against implicated riders in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year’s Tour fiasco in this year’s major national events, the first of which begins on Saturday in Italy.
Basso had consistently denied any wrongdoing, but last week he parted company with the Discovery Channel team after CONI reopened its inquiry into allegations against him.
He was initially acquitted by CONI of any involvement in the scandal after the first hearing due to what Italy governing body for sport had described as insufficient evidence. But CONI reopened its investigation after German officials successfully connected nine bags of blood to Ullrich.
Basso, with lawyer Massimo Martelli at his side, admitted that he had had dealings with Fuentes, calling them “moments of weakness which will stay with me for the rest of my life and for which I intend to pay the price.”
“Yes, I am ‘Birillo,’” said Basso, referring to a codename that appeared in Fuentes’s records.
“I am fully aware that an attempt at doping is tantamount to doping, but I am asking to be excused for this and that should be enough,” he said. “All my victories were obtained in an honest manner and nobody can contest what I achieved in the 2006 Giro d’Italia, no more than the other results I achieved during my career.”
CONI later disclosed that another Italian rider, Michele Scarponi, had approached them on Tuesday to admit his involvement in the Puerto affair while offering to collaborate with their investigation.
Spanish sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky said Basso had admirably taken responsibility for his actions. “The knowledge I have of the matter is based on CONI and personally I consider this an example of courage,” Lissavetzky said.
“I believe Basso not only showed he is a great cycling champion but also someone who knows how to take responsibility. Congratulations.”