Ivan Basso is back in the spotlight, but this time for all the right reasons.
The Italian climber — who served a two-year ban for admitting his role in the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal — won Sunday’s stage up Monte Zoncolan in dramatic fashion that reminded many of the Basso of old.
This time around, Basso says his victories are fueled from hard work and sacrifice.
“I have done my work since I returned to cycling. It’s all there online. Anyone can look with their own eyes. You can judge for yourself,” Basso said Sunday. “You can see the kilometers I’ve trained, you can track my hematocrit. All you have to do is go to my Web site and look.”
Basso was one of the biggest names caught up in the Puerto blood doping scandal that erupted during the 2006 Giro.
Despite police evidence that he was “Birillo” in secret logs tracking doping practices, Basso stubbornly denied his connection to alleged ring-leader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
Weeks later, Basso was one of nine riders prevented from starting the 2006 Tour de France when the UCI got their hands on the Puerto files and found enough evidence to sideline him. That didn’t stop Basso from signing a big-money contract to race with Discovery Channel for the 2007 racing season.
Italian officials, using a much stricter anti-doping law than their Spanish neighbors, were able to access police files. Faced with possible jail time, Basso quickly folded and admitted his link to Fuentes.
He stopped short of a full confession, however, and said he only had the “intention of doping” when police linked bags of stored blood to Basso.
Basso served out his ban and he was touted in the Italian media is a hero for being forthright about his past actions. Counting time served as a temporary ban, Basso returned in October 2008 with Liquigas.
His full comeback season in 2009 was seen as a letdown by many, especially when Basso couldn’t light up the climbs like he used to. He rode to fifth at the 2009 Giro and fourth at the Vuelta, but didn’t blow anyone away.
Sunday’s big win was Basso’s first Giro stage win since his dominant, nine-minute Giro victory in 2006 — with a gap so huge that Gilberto Simoni called him an “extraterrestrial” — but this time he says he’s reformed.
“This victory means a lot to me, especially to anyone who knows me as a person, not just as a cyclist,” Basso said. “There were some difficult moments following what happened to me. I really counted on the support of people who believed in me. They supported me and knew that the results would come.”
Basso was impressive on Zoncolan, dropping the stubborn Cadel Evans (BMC) with just under 2km to go solo to victory.
“Basso surprised me a bit. I wouldn’t say it was an attack, it’s just that he was better than everyone else. He rode his rhythm, everyone else rode their own rhythm, it’s just that his rhythm was a little bit faster all the way up the climb,” Evans said. “He was a little bit better than me today, but on a climb like today, it makes all the difference.”
Basso is now in the driver’s seat in this Giro. His revenge tour also includes a trip back to the Tour de France, his first since he was second to Lance Armstrong in 2005.
That seems like a very long time ago, but Basso wants to prove that there’s an “after” to his cycling career that will forever be marked by Puerto.