By Shane Stokes
CSC boss Bjarne Riis is currently preparing things prior to the team's training camp in South Africa, where they will discuss plans for the new season as well as do their now-infamous team-building exercises. One familiar face which will be missing, however, is that of Ivan Basso, who for the past three seasons was very much part of the Danish team.
The Italian left the team due to fallout from the Operación Puerto affair this year. He was one of several big riders who didn't start the Tour de France due to his implication in the matter and while he and Riis had talks earlier this autumn to see if their relationship could be maintained, the two eventually decided to go their separate ways.
Basso subsequently signed for CSC's big rival Discovery Channel, an acquisition which initially led to much criticism from fans, media and other teams. The dissatisfaction originated from the fact that they felt that the signing went against the spirit of the ethical undertaking by ProTour teams not to sign riders under suspicion.
Discovery Channel DS Johann Bruyneel rejected the response, saying that the shelving of Basso's case by the Italian federation meant that the rider was clear to compete as per usual. The fact that the UCI has said that the suspended Operación Puerto cases may well be reopened once the Puerto judicial proceedings are finished was tempered somewhat by the news that the Italian would, after all, give a DNA sample if he was required to do so by the investigators.
His lawyer had previously refused to agree to the measure, stating somewhat bizarrely that the testing was not reliable.
Bjarne Riis recently spoke to Cyclingnews about CSC's new anti-doping policy, which will see the team spending over €300,000 on 800 out-of-competition tests, plus several other matters. He also commented on the Basso situation, saying that if the Italian had agreed to DNA testing he could have stayed with Team CSC.
Riis first gave his reaction to Basso's signing with Discovery, or rather declined to do so, diplomatically, on the grounds that the Italian was entitled to make his own choice once he had walked away from the Danish squad.
"I set him free, I had an agreement with him and he was free to choose whatever he wanted to do," said the 1996 Tour de France winner. "So I cannot have any reactions on that. I cannot have anything against that, otherwise I should have kept him. I will let other people give their own reactions, but I will not do so because it [Discovery Channel] is not my team."
Riis is clearly disappointed to lose a rider who won the Giro d'Italia earlier this year and was clearly one of the biggest favourites for the Tour de France. Several months after his exclusion from that race, he insists that CSC had no indication that Basso was behaving improperly. "When Ivan was with us, his [blood] values were all normal. There was no indication that anything was amiss."
However the possibility that the file will be reopened when the Operación Puerto judicial case concludes is something which he says he had to take into consideration. There was, he says, one way to resolve things, but Basso elected not to take a DNA test.
"The problem is that we have no guarantee that this case is over. This was of course a big issue for us when we were talking things over with Ivan. It is nice that he says he will do a DNA now, but I wonder why he couldn't do that with us.
"We were of course talking about it. We didn't say that he had to do it, as we can't insist on something like that, but of course we asked him about the possibility of it. We left open all the possibilities to prove that he is clean.
"If he had done a DNA test, sure... he would have been able to stay. That would have solved a lot of problems, of course."
A full feature interview with Bjarne Riis will follow soon on Cyclingnews.