Uncertain Tour de France future for Italian
By Gregor Brown in Liège
Liquigas team manager Roberto Amadio wants to see Ivan Basso return to cycling regardless of the number of wins he can bring the team. In the wake of the two-year contract signed between the rider banned for links to the Operación Puerto investigation and the Italian ProTour team, there have been a number of voices questioning if this is right for cycling.
Amadio clarified to Cyclingnews his reasoning for signing the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner, whose suspension ends October 24. "Basso is for 2009, now we are in 2008 and we have to think of doing well," he noted on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "Then in 2009, we will look at the programme and what cyclists we will have at his side."
The signature of Ivan Basso, 30, left a lot of cycling fans scratching their heads as it was only last fall that Liquigas let go the very rider, Italian Danilo Di Luca, who had won them the 2007 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro d'Italia.
Amadio hinted that Di Luca, who is friends with Basso, might come back into the fold. "Regarding Di Luca, we made an offer last year; he did not accept it and changed teams. This year we will make another offer, no one is saying that Di Luca can't come back," Amadio continued. However, did he look at other riders, ones not implicated in one of cycling's biggest doping investigations? "All the top cyclists already have contracts in place," he replied.
The Basso signing was quickly followed by Amadio pulling the team out of the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP). The association's gentlemen's agreement states that any rider suspended for doping can't race in a ProTour team, like Liquigas and 17 others, for four years.
"I think that Basso has paid for the crime that he has committed, with two years of disqualification that was given to him," Amadio continued. "In the group there are riders with the same guilt as Basso, but continue to race and have not paid – you need only look around. I think that Basso has paid; he is an important Italian who will be re-launched in an important team and rise above the doping issue.
"We upset the AIGCP when we left. If you reflect on that ethics code that was made it does not stand, there have been a lot of things that have changed from 2005, when it was created, to now."
Liquigas may be content being outside of the AIGCP, but what about the biggest race in the world of cycling, the Tour de France? "I don't know; it will be up to the Tour to say this. I think that we need to re-find Basso 'the racer', not the Basso that maybe can win the Tour de France. Liquigas took on Basso because he coming back to be a racer, and it is not important if he wins one, zero or ten races, nor which races he wins."
Christian Prudhomme, director of the Amaury Sport Organisation which runs Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de France, may think twice before inviting Liquigas to his future races. The Frenchman has harshly dealt with those teams who could give his race a bad image, like with Astana. When asked about Liquigas signing the rider who finished second in the 2005 Tour de France, Prudhomme told Cyclingnews, "we are looking into it".