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By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Disgraced Italian cycling star Ivan Basso deserves a second chance of resurrecting his career, the Italian’s future manager at the Liquigas team said Friday.
Basso is nearing the end of a ban handed down after he admitted, without having tested positive for banned substances, to being involved in the Spanish doping affair ‘Operation Puerto’.
The Italian, a former rival of Lance Armstrong on the Tour de France while racing for the Danish CSC team, is due to return to racing at the end of the summer.
Liquigas had hoped to brush off the criticism and welcome one of Italy’s most revered riders with open arms, however they have had the worst possible preparation.
The lime-green colored Italian outfit is currently one of three teams on the Tour de France to have suspended a rider following a positive test for the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).
The team’s manager, Stefano Zanatta, claims that Spaniard Manuel Beltran’s positive test after the first stage will lead to his sacking if it is confirmed by a counter-analysis next week.
But he has defended the team’s decision to sign Basso, whom he claims is being watched closely by the anti-doping authorities.
“I can understand that people might regard us with suspicion, but we have nothing to hide and Basso has paid the price for his mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance,” Zanatta told AFP prior to the 13th stage.
“Right now he is training a lot but he is also being visited on a regular basis by the doping controllers. He has been tested at home a lot.”
On Thursday Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme left the future of Riccardo Ricco’s Saunier Duval team in doubt after declaring he doubted the integrity of the team’s manager.
Ricco, a double stage winner, is the biggest name so far to be snared by the anti-doping controllers at this year’s race.
It remains to be seen whether Liquigas, and the Barloworld team of Spaniard Moises Duenas — who has also left the Tour following a positive test for EPO — will be invited back next year.
But as far as Basso is concerned, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“He won’t be racing the Tour next year,” added Zanatta.
“He will probably ride the Tour of California in the early season, then perhaps some of the (one-day) classics and Tirreno-Adriatico before preparing for the Giro d’Italia.
“The Tour is the biggest race in the world, but for our sponsor the Giro is just as important.”