Puerto suspicions may keep Giro champ out of other ASO events
By Andrew Hood
Discovery Channel rider Ivan Basso will skip Wednesday’s Flèche Wallone and Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège over growing pressure to boycott riders with links to the Operación Puerto doping investigation heats up again.
The Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Tuesday that the decision comes following an agreement between Discovery Channel team officials and race organizer ASO, which runs the Tour de France as well as the two upcoming Ardennes classics.
Both sides agreed it would be more pragmatic to keep the Italian out of the hilly spring classics to avoid a potentially contentious row between ASO officials and the defending Giro d’Italia champion, La Gazzetta reported.
Discovery Channel officials weren’t immediately available for comment. Basso’s name still appeared on preliminary start lists for Flèche Wallone early Tuesday.
ASO officials, however, late last week said riders with links to the Puerto investigation would be kept out of the 2007 Tour de France.
Last year, Basso was among nine riders kicked out ahead of the start of the 2006 Tour after his name, under the codename of “Birillo,” appeared in police documents released to UCI and ASO officials just days before the grand départ in Strasbourg.
Basso, 29, has vehemently denied claims he worked with alleged ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, who was arrested last May with four others after Spanish police uncovered what they insisted was an elaborate blood-doping network involving nearly 60 riders.
Basso left his Team CSC contract and was eventually cleared of any suspicion by the Italian cycling federation, opening the door for his eventual arrival at Discovery Channel last November. Last month, a Spanish judge dropped all criminal cases against suspects in Puerto since there was no specific anti-doping law on the books at the time of the alleged infractions. Spain’s parliament has since passed a statute barring the use of performance-enhancing drugs and techniques that are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Soon after his arrival, Basso and the team issued a carefully worded statement that suggested he would submit to a DNA test, but only in connection with “a national judicial or disciplinary investigation.”
The latter possibility reared its head Tuesday when Basso was asked to appear before the Italian Olympic Committee’s (Coni) anti-doping prosecutor on May 2.
Italy’s Ansa news agency said Tuesday that prosecutor Ettore Torri and his assistant Franco Cosenza have asked the Giro winner to appear at their offices in relation to what they describe as a doping violation regarding “the use or intent to use a banned substance or method.” The CONI and ASO decisions come as the Puerto scandal is gaining new traction despite the Spanish decision to drop legal proceedings in the doping investigation.
Prosecutors in Germany earlier this month confirmed that a DNA sample taken from ex-rider Jan Ullrich matched up with nine of the blood bags seized in the doping investigation. The bags were marked with code names, “Hijo de Rudicio” (Rudy’s Sone) and “No. 1,” which Spanish authorities believed was Ullrich.
On Monday, the UCI put new pressure on Spanish officials to allow nearly 100 bags of blood and plasma to be profiled with DNA sampling to try to identify them ahead of the season’s most important stage races.
“The UCI wants to ensure that all the blood that was found in relation to the Puerto affair is identified,” UCI president Pat McQuaid wrote in a letter to Spain’s sports minister. “The whole cycling community, and indeed the whole sports world, is waiting for the identification of all athletes who are apparently or possibly involved in the affair.”
Italian prosecutors in Bergamo are also following up with its own investigation and could request DNA testing from Puerto blood samples, La Gazzetta reported.
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