Looking trim and taut, draped from head to toe in his Discovery Channel clothing and team bike, Ivan Basso was recently caught out training by Cyclingnews photographer Roberto Bettini.
Basso has also been in Austin, Texas, earlier this month for meetings with Discovery team manager Johan Bruyneel and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, a part-owner of the team.
Armstrong tried to court the 29 year-old Basso as early as 2002 and again in 2004 when he was still a member of Team CSC, but back then, his allegiance towards Danish team boss Bjarne Riis was rock solid. The events surrounding Operacion Puerto have changed all that, and as the Italian's relationship with Riis soured, the rumoured discussions between himself and Discovery Channel became more pronounced.
It appears, however, that Basso's re-entry to the ProTour is not without its critics. As of last Friday, the association of International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT) voted to exclude Discovery Channel and Active Bay, the company of former Liberty Seguros team owner/manager Manolo Saiz. A representative at the meeting said, "Discovery Channel didn't respect the rules" - referring to a voluntary agreement between ProTour team managers that riders named in the Puerto doping scandal would not be given a contract.
"This is a team that is used to winning, and after seven years they have a new prospective number one," said a confident Basso to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Added Bruyneel: "We are ready to be back into the game... The arrival of Basso has created a rise in the team's motivation. It had felt the lack of a leader for the Tour."
In 2007, ongoing doping scandals notwithstanding, Basso will be attempting to achieve what he originally set out to do this year: victory in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.
As for Basso, he just wants to ride his bike. Perhaps it's no surprise to see him using an SRM Powermeter and his position on the bike largely unchanged, but from a distance, the saddle height looks a little lower than usual.