By Andrew Hood
Don’t think that disgraced Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso is idly wasting his time while he serves out his two-year ban for links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal.
The 29-year-old Italian is plotting his return when his ban ends October 24 next year and is already in contact with several teams for what will be a full racing schedule for the 2009 season.
According to a story in La Gazzetta dello Sport, Basso has been staying busy since admitting to Italian anti-doping investigators in May that he was a client of Spanish doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, the alleged ringleader of the Puerto ring.
Basso has maintained his training schedule throughout the early months of his ban and put in 30,000 kilometers this year before a planned vacation in the coming weeks to the Caribbean. That’s only 5000 less kilometers than he put in when he raced the Giro-Tour double in 2005.
Basso also said he’s keeping close to his ideal racing weight of 70kg, training on his Discovery Channel team-issued Trek bike but opting for discreet training jerseys without a team logo.
Basso even said anti-doping officials have called on him to take controls since he began serving his ban.
Basso was linked to Fuentes in May 2006 when the lid was blown on the Puerto ring, but he lied about knowing Fuentes and signed a million-dollar deal to join Discovery Channel for the 2007 season.
He was poised to defend his Giro title until building pressure from Italian investigators forced his hand just days before the start of the race. Officials from Italy’s Olympic Committee gained access to blood bags allegedly linked to Basso and were prepared to force DNA tests when Basso prudently decided it was better to come forward.
Basso offered less than a full confession, admitting only his intention to dope, a claim that disappointed many who were hoping that the Italian star would come clean on the full extent of his Fuentes relationship.
CONI did Basso a favor and broke protocol to count days that Basso was sidelined after he was forced out of the 2006 Tour against his time he would serve for his ban, allowing him to return to competition next fall rather than during the summer of 2009.
Basso remains popular with Italian fans and most of the influential national cycling media continue to treat him as a hero for stepping forward despite admitting he worked with Fuentes.
He’s hoping to race in the Japan Cup next October just days after his ban ends and hinted that he could compete in other international events in South America to gain fitness ahead of a full comeback in 2009.
Several teams are reportedy staying in close touch with Basso, who will have to wait to see what kind of reception he receives when his ban finally does end.
Everyone loves Alberto
While pundits are still contemplating the route of the 2008 Tour de France, most agree Alberto Contador couldn’t ask for a better course to defend his title. With less kilometers against the clock and four challenging summit finishes, last year’s surprise winner will have an ideal route to try to prove he’s a worth Tour champion. It’s still too early to talk of Contador as the next Tour dominator because he still has to confirm his victory with a second title, yet many insist the unconventional route for the 95th Tour is tailor-made for the Spanish climber. Oscar Pereiro, who was only recently officially crowned winner of the 2006 Tour following the doping exclusion of Floyd Landis, insists it will be his younger compatriot who will line up as the five-star favorite. “It doesn’t have a prologue, the time trials are shorter, there’s enough climbing and Alberto isn’t someone who gives much away in the mountains and he holds up pretty well in the time trials,” Pereiro said. “He’s the clear favorite.” More are in agreement. The removal of the opening prologue and the reduction of time trials from 117km in 2006 to 82 kilometers will only help the chances of the 24-year-old madrileño. “There is 30 percent less kilometers in time trial compared to other years and that’s a clear advantage for climbers,” said Caisse d’Epargne sport director Eusebio Unzue. “My favorite is Contador, but there are other climbers who are coming up, like the Colombian Mauricio Soler. There aren’t the Indurains and Armstrongs who can open up big differences in the time trials. With the profile of riders today, all defend well in the mountains and in the time trial, and there will be more equality. The only one who can mark differences climbing is Contador.” Of course, the route won’t only favor Contador. Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer and others will certainly benefit by the changes introduced by Tour organizers last Thursday in Paris. Without a prologue or team time trial, the two time trials will prove decisive. The opening 29km time trial in the first week shouldn’t pose a major problem for Contador to stay close to the specialists, but the longer, 52km time trial on the penultimate stage could prove complicating. Contador almost lost this year’s Tour in the final time trial as the superior Evans and Leipheimer were narrowing the gap. Four summit finishes – Super Besse, Hautacam, Prato Nevoso and L’Alpe d’Huez – definitely play into Contador’s favor. With the likely absence of the beleaguered Michael Rasmussen, few will be able to answer Contador when he’s at his best on the steep climbs. At least that’s what Contador is counting on. “I feel pretty optimistic. From the first look, it’s a course that suits me pretty well,” Contador said. “There are more than enough mountains and less time trials. If it was up to me, I would have liked the longer time trial first and the shorter one second, because then I would know differences I would have to make up to the specialists in the mountains.”
Tinkoff signs two more
Tinkoff Credit Systems continues to build its roster for the 2008 season. Moving from Gianni Savio’s Selle Italia outfit is Italian sprinter Alberto Lotto while Colombian Walter Pedraza rounds out the team’s 28-man roster for next season. Spanish climber Ricardo Serrano will also stay with the team next year despite suffering with tendonitis through the most important part of the 2007 schedule.
German Jörg Jaksche and American Tyler Hamilton have not appeared on the team’s roster since both were told they would not be taking part in the 2007 Giro d’Italia in May. Jaksche is currently facing disciplinary proceedings in Germany. Hamilton, who finished serving a two-year suspension for blood doping last year has nonetheless been shadowed by controversy, often mentioned in connection with the seemingly interminable Operación Puerto case in Spain.
The Russian-Italian continental team announced on its team web page it will hold a press conference to confirm the composition of its lineup for next season.