Ivan Basso successfully returned to racing with third place in the Japan Cup yesterday. His team helped him launch an attack and battle for victory, but the Italian was not able to match the power of eventual winner Damiano Cunego.
"To return after two years of suspension and to go so strong right away was a big result. ... I could not ask for more," Basso said to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The Italian cycling federation (FCI) banned Basso on June 15, 2007 for his links with Spanish Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, centre 2006's Operación Puerto doping investigation. He admitted to investigating prosecutor Ettore Torri during hearings that he gave blood to Fuentes. His suspension ended October 24.
Team Liquigas forced the pace in the last circuits of the 11-lap course that was used for the 1990 World Championships. Basso attacked on the penultimate lap and Team Lampre's Cunego and Team Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti joined him.
"It was as if time had stood still for me. To make the move that decided the race and to climb at the front with Cunego, it brought to mind the Giro d'Italia rivalry. The climb was too short to make the difference and the sprint was difficult for me. The 2004 Lombardia ended in the same way, in fact."
Basso anticipated the sprint, but Cunego responded with Visconti in tow. Basso finished a slight distance back though the trio are recorded with the same finishign time of 4:04:57.
"I saw that I am still a protagonist. I am able to pass the winter calm and with faith for the upcoming season."
Cunego topped his final race of the season and headlined Basso's comeback race. It was one week after his dominating performance in the Giro di Lombardia and it was his fifth win of the year.
"Everyone expected it and we gave a show," said Cunego of the duel. "I imagined that the rivalry would heat up here. It was an extra motivation.
"He found Cunego and Visconti at the end of their seasons ... 2009 will be a true measurement of strengths."
"Cunego went there to race all the same," said Directeur Sportif Maurizio Piovani to Cyclingnews of the Basso and Cunego rivalry. "He went there not only to win, but because he wanted to go and because he is a past winner.
"He was content with his day. Even if his head was not 100 percent, his Lombardia condition carried him through."
Both riders will take a break and then start training for the 2009 season and the expected battles.