Monday, May 7, 2007

Basso admits involvement in Puerto scandal

Lawyer: 'He wanted to lift a weight off his conscience'


photo: AFP (file)

Ivan Basso on Monday confessed to the anti-doping prosecutor of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) that he was involved in the OperaciĆ³n Puerto blood doping scandal.

CONI said the 2006 Giro winner came to them of his own accord and offered to cooperate with their investigation and clarify his part in the scandal. Basso will face the media Tuesday at a midday press conference at Milan's Michelangelo hotel.

The 29-year-old Basso now faces a ban from cycling of up to two years and an additional two-year exclusion from riding on ProTour teams. If his doping is connected to his 2006 Giro win, authorities could also strip him of that title.

"He wasn't feeling good and he wasn't calm, and he wanted to lift a weight off his conscience," said Basso's lawyer Massimo Martelli. "During the interrogation he was shaking, but then he regained his composure to show great character."

Ivano Fanini, owner of Italian cycling team Amore and Vita, was happy to see Basso come clean.

"I knew it would finish this way and it could be a great chance for things to change," he said. "Basso has shown his intelligence and understands that this is the right road to take.

"He mustn't only think about saving himself, and I hope that what he has done proves to be important."

Basso, last year's Giro d'Italia winner and a pre-race favorite for the 2007 Tour de France, is one of dozens of riders implicated in the Puerto investigation.

The scandal erupted before last year's Tour De France when Spanish police uncovered an alleged blood doping network run by doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

Police discovered bags of blood and doping products on a raid on Fuentes's laboratory in Madrid, along with codenames of cyclists and documents which suggested the doctor had been paid to manipulate and store blood.

Last year, Basso's implication in the scandal cost him his place at the Tour de France.

UCI president Pat McQuaid expressed his dismay at hearing the news.

"Most of all I am very sad that a talented rider like Basso seems to have been involved in some illicit practices," he said. "On the other hand I'm trying to look at this news in a more positive light. Our constant efforts, with our other cycling partners, to put cyclists under pressure are paying off.

"Right now it's not easy to break the rules," he added.

Last week Basso parted company with the Discovery Channel team after CONI had called him to a hearing to answer doping charges.

Up until now Basso had protested his innocence. He was initially acquitted by CONI of any involvement in the scandal due to what Italy's governing body for sport described as insufficient evidence.

But CONI reopened its investigation after German officials matched blood seized in the Puerto raids to 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich. Until now, Basso had refused to submit to DNA testing, but in recent weeks the pressure to do so was increasing.

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