93rd Tour de France - ProT
France, July 1-23, 2006
Shortly before 2pm CEDST (Central European Daylight Saving Time) Friday afternoon, Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis and spokesperson Brian Nygaard walked into the salle de presse (press room) in Strasbourg's Palais de la Musique et de Congres to deliver a statement and answer questions. But with the room soon morphing into a boxing arena with around 200 journalists and photographers all wanting a piece of the action, the crowd moved to the much larger conference de presse in the Auditorium Schweitzer.
"Maybe most of you have heard already. We had a meeting with all the teams this morning, and in that meeting, we made a decision - I made a decision - that Ivan would not participate in the Tour," began Riis.
"Of course, it's because of the story [of what happened] today, and we believe that it's not possible for one rider to focus on the Tour, and, at the same time, defend himself. So we believe that it's best for him [Basso], for everybody, that he's not going to do the Tour.
"Of course, in the end, if this is the case [that Basso is guilty], I'm the first one to be disappointed." - Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis continues to defend his protégé Ivan Basso - but for how much longer?
"If I let Ivan do the Tour, I can see all of you here - and there's a lot more outside - there will be no race for him, because he will be hunted, day and night. It won't be good for Ivan, it won't be good for the team, and it certainly won't be good for the sport."
Added Nygaard: "During the meeting, we had a chance to have a look at the 50 pages that were sent to the UCI. We've not yet considered the case as evidence, but we've established that he's part of the case and he's [Basso] under suspicion. We've waited until now until we've seen some facts based on the commission set up by the Guarda Civil, and the papers handed out by the Spanish government and, in turn, the UCI.
"And it's based on those papers that we think it's not possible to defend himself in the case, and, do the Tour de France at the same time. It has nothing to do with guilt. In cycling, we have an ethical charter, that, if a rider is part of a case and under suspicion, all the [ProTour] teams agree that a rider should not take part in the race."
"We have never had any indication that he [Basso] should be involved in anything," said Riis.
"Everything has been in perfect order, and there has not been any single, small sign or anything, and in that case, it's really difficult for us to believe. But the fact is, his name's on the list, and that we have to deal with, unfortunately."
Team CSC's position certainly differs from that of the T-Mobile Team, whose riders Jan Ullrich, Oscar Sevilla and sporting director Rudy Pevenage were suspended earlier this morning. As the case stands, there is enough evidence to prove all three lied, despite signing declarations of innocence concerning any relationship with doctor Eufemiano Fuentes or the Spanish doping affair.
"The facts in the case contradict Ullrich's claims of innocence so strongly that we had to take this step, in order to follow our goal of a clean sport," said team spokesman Stefan Wagner.
Added team manager Olaf Ludwig: "There are clear guidelines arranged with the riders, which leave no room for interpretation. This was also clear to Jan Ullrich, Oscar Sevilla and Rudy Pevenage."
"If we are presented with evidence, which leads us to doubt the credibility of one or other of our riders, then we act upon it immediately. That is the case now," said Christian Frommert, another spokesperson from T-Mobile.
Contradicting a statement made later by CSC spokesperson Nygaard was T-Mobile announcing the team would take two of its reserve riders to the Tour, Italian Lorenzo Bernucci and Germany's Stephan Schreck.
Asked about a replacement for Basso, Riis simply answered: "There will be no replacement."
"That was a decision made unanimously by all the participating teams in the Tour," said Nygaard, "that no rider will be taken out because of this and be replaced by any other rider."
The closest Riis came to showing a sign that there may be enough evidence to condemn Basso was this statement: "I cannot follow the riders 24 hours a day; I cannot follow them everywhere. I follow them a lot, I tell you, but, of course, there are moments where I cannot be [there].
"But I do what I can - the doctors, staff, they do all they can - and the rest you have to leave up to the UCI, WADA, whatever... I hope they are doing a good job. Maybe they aren't doing a good enough job, because all this happened... I don't know, but [as a rider] you're old enough to be responsible, and be aware of your responsibilities.
"Of course, in the end, if this is the case [that Basso is guilty], I'm the first one to be disappointed.
"I had many disappointments in my life, my career. I don't need to be here - but I'm here because I want to create something that I believe in, that everybody can be proud of, and I am ready to take that responsibility. I'm the first to tell my riders the consequences if they don't follow the rules, and if they don't follow, there's only one way [to go]," said Riis.
Regardless of what has happened, Riis was doing his best to remain optimistic, believing there is still a role for him and a role for the team - with or without Basso. However, the 1996 Tour de France winner admitted it was hard to stay positive.
"I think it's a huge blow for everybody. I'd rather be here in front of all these microphones because Ivan has won the Tour. Right now, it's a hard situation for all of us, but this is life. You have to stand up and go further; it's easy to sit down and cry and say, 'What can I do?' - be responsible for your own situation and your own life and what you do.
"I feel obligated to do that. The only thing right now I can and want to do is be responsible for my team and go on strong, together, with or without Basso. I have no other choice; this is my life, this is the way I want it to be... and it's hard, it's very hard - it touched me - but sometimes in life, it's not easy, but damn, you have to deal with it, and that's what we do.
"I'm still convinced they way I built my team, the way I work and so on, is the right way. Right now, it's difficult for me to say that, because Ivan Basso maybe be involved in something [illegal]. And there might be a lot of people who don't believe in that - but I believe in the way I work, and I will continue to work in the same way. I'm not going to change anything because of now.
"I want to fight for this sport, I want to fight for this team, for my sponsors... and maybe one day I'll have enough and don't want to do it anymore. But right now, I want to do it; the sport needs me - everybody needs me - and I want to be the best I can through this, and I hope everybody else will do that.
"I believe this team has a future," Riis said.