By Tim Maloney, European Editor
The Italian Olympic Committee's Anti-Doping prosecutor shelved the file related to Basso's supposed involvement on Operacion Puerto due to lack of any definite proof that the winner of the 2006 Giro d'Italia was involved in the Spanish investigation. Now cleared to race after 105 days, Basso learned in a three and a half hour meeting with CSC boss Bjarne Riis on Wednesday afternoon in Switzerland that he would not start the Giro di Lombardia Saturday.
Basso told La Gazzetta dello Sport's Luca Gialanella, "No, I won't be racing. Now I'm a free person, but Riis has decided that right now, it's better that I don't race in Giro di Lombardia. I really wanted to and I'm sorry I won't be able to race. I've been training all this time so I could race again this season when the (Operacion Puerto) situation was resolved. Maybe it all came down too fast, just two days before Lombardia."
Basso pushed hard with Riis, but in the end, the CSC boss said no, not for any reason related to the (ProTour) Code of Ethics, but more for technical reasons, with Riis perhaps not wanting to have Basso on the same squad as his new rising star Fränk Schleck.
Basso explained further that Riis told him, "Since it's not that clear what will happen in 2007, it's not that important that you ride the last race of the season with CSC." But Basso understands that the buck stops with Riis, saying "he's the one who decides, and who has to answer to the team sponsor."
A relieved and almost defiant Basso is still looking for a positive spin. "That means I'll go riding by myself (Saturday) on my own roads. For the first time as a free man...I've never had anything to be ashamed of in this thing, even if I was considered a bad guy for cycling and for sport. Now I have to get my head together calmly and move forward."
Despite all the negative media coverage, Basso has been gratified by the support of his tifosi. "(The support) has been nice. Lots and lots and lots of people have supported me and cheered me on during my training the last three months, even more than after I won the Giro d'Italia! My win in the Giro was not a surprise for anyone, with my four straight Tours up with the top riders. The reality is that I have always had a lot of support from the fans, from kids who ask me for autographs and wish me well."
Basso also spoke of his solid support at home, saying what has kept him going during his recent tough times was "my family and my love for this sport. To see the smile of your kids helps forget it all. Yeah, it was a bad situation but I never felt persecuted or a scapegoat. I would ride my bike and when I came home, I felt a lot better than before!"
Next step for Basso is to resolve the situation with Riis and CSC. The Giro winner has a contract through 2008 with the Danish team, but some insiders say that the breach between Basso and Riis is irreparable, while other say it's all media speculation. "I have another meeting with Bjarne Monday," said Basso. "As one might imagine, it isn't easy to put the pieces together again. There was a big embarrassment for everyone at the Tour and we haven't really spoken for almost four months when before, we spoke every day."
If a mutually agreed solution can be found between Riis and Basso for the last two years of the Italian talent's contract, Discovery Channel, Lance Armstrong's former team is reportedly ready to sign the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner.