By Andrew Hood
Team CSC’s Bjarne Riis said all he can do is wait concerning the fate of star rider Ivan Basso, who went before members of the Italian Olympic disciplinary commission earlier this week to face down allegations that he works with Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Riis reiterated statements he made last week to a Danish newspaper, reaffirming that Basso must prove his innocence to the team before he is allowed to return to racing. Basso was among nine riders from four teams kicked out of the 2006 Tour de France for alleged links to Fuentes, who is at the center of a wide-ranging investigation in Spain.
“We have to wait to see what comes out and then we’ll know more. We have no idea how long this will take. We have no choice,” Riis told VeloNews.com. “If he is part of it, then we have to do something about it. I don’t think we have any other choice.”
Spanish police allege Fuentes worked with the Giro d’Italia champion, using the code-name “Birillo” to refer to the Italian in phone conversations.
Basso has denied the allegations and has told Riis and other officials at Team CSC he will be able to clear his name. Riis said last week that might not be enough, insisting that Basso would have to prove his innocence to the team rather than just escaping any legal ramifications.
Basso is the first rider implicated in the Fuentes case to go before his respective cycling federation’s disciplinary committee. UCI officials said they will demand sanctions against riders they believe were part of the alleged doping ring. Basso is scheduled to appear again September 12.
Riis said he’s been unable to obtain court documents that allegedly link Basso to Fuentes, something the Dane said undercuts his ability to make an informed decision about his star pupil.
“I have not seen the documents. That’s why we want to see it and know what it’s going on,” he said. “Right now we have to deal with it, but I don’t think it’s fair. We have an interest in protecting our investments and we need to know what’s going on. How are we able to make decisions?”
Unlike T-Mobile – which fired star riders Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla after alleged links to Fuentes were disclosed ahead of the Tour – Basso is still part of Team CSC. Riis said Basso is “not suspended, he’s just not racing.”
Riis strongly insists that his team is clean despite the rash of allegations made against Basso and ex-Team CSC rider Tyler Hamilton, who rode with Riis in 2002-03 and who’s also been linked to the Spanish doctor.
“It hurts, of course, it’s also why I am doing the things I do now,” Riis said. “We have nothing to hide in this team. It’s important to show everybody what we’ve built up is done in the correct way.”
To help assure sponsors and skeptical fans and media, especially back in Denmark where cycling has been taking some hard hits in the press, Riis has agreed to work with Danish doping expert Rasmus Damsgaard in an effort to bolster the team’s posture against doping.
Riis said he will meet with Damsgaard in the coming weeks to discuss different options on how he can work with the team.
“I have no problems with taking a guy like him into the team and showing him how things work. If it can help, why not?” Riis said. “I have to sit down with him and talk about and how he can help the team.
“It would be interesting for him to see how we work with the team. It’s easy for people to say, ‘Oh, everyone is just doped.’ If I can show him what we do, then I can prove that it’s not true. We have nothing to hide. If that means that all the journalists are with us on the bus or at the hotel, of course not, we have to be serious.”
Riis said he supported efforts by UCI president Pat McQuaid to take a hard look at cycling and see how things can be changed to eliminate the culture of doping that seems to persist in the sport.
“Cycling has taken a blow, but that doesn’t mean we won’t survive,” he said. “We have to do something about it. Everyone has to be conscious of our image.”
Asked whether cycling can afford another doping case following the turmoil of the Fuentes investigation and the Floyd Landis doping scandal at the Tour de France, Riis said there are never guarantees.
“That doesn’t mean we cannot have a case. Everyone has to understand that when a case comes every once in a while, it means that the controls are working. We have to accept that people will try to cheat and we have rules for that,” Riis said.
“We will have controls that are stronger, but there will always be someone who tries to cheat. That’s why we have a legal system and the rules.”