Italy's Ivan Basso returns to the professional peloton after serving a 16-month ban for his relations with Operación Puerto's Eufemiano Fuentes. Can this quiet yet determined rider overcome his critics, his shame and one certain competitor to achieve his goal of winning the 2009 Giro d'Italia? Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews finds out.
Ivan Basso emerged as his country's best hope to win the Tour de France following the death of Marco Pantani in 2004. The soft spoken rider from Varese had his first significant win in the U23 World Championships in Valkenburg in the same year that Pantani won the Tour in 1998. However, like his ill-fated compatriot, Basso rose to the heights of the sport before crashing down in doping controversy. Unlike Pantani, he's survived the "guilt and embarrassment" of being caught up in Operación Puerto and is now seeking redemption in a new career with Team Liquigas. He will ride his first race with his new team in Sunday's Japan Cup.
Team Liquigas signed Basso in April of this year and is allowing him to race at the first moment possible following a suspension for doping. He will line up at the Japan Cup – one of the last major races of the year – only two days after the end of his suspension. After missing nearly two full seasons of racing, he is looking forward to getting back into competition and is hoping for a positive reception in Japan.
"My only race there was the Tour of Japan when I was young – as an under 23 rider with the national team – but I have never raced the Japan Cup," he said to Cyclingnews. "The Japanese people are very friendly with me and I am sure we will have a great week there, especially the day of the race. I expect there will be a lot of fans there."
Basso will follow the Japan Cup with a short break and then return to hard training in preparation for his 2009 mission – the Giro d'Italia. It will have been three years since he last won the Giro and he has been out of competition most of that time.
Read the full interview here.