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Basso wins Giro, but shadow of Operación Puerto remains

Ivan Basso (image courtesy of Darcy McCarty)

As expected, Ivan Basso completed his second Giro d’Italia win yesterday, negotiating the 15.3km time trial around Verona safely to win by 1:51 over Caisse d’Epargne‘s David Arroyo. But, as I stated yesterday, it is difficult  to be 100% enthusiastic about a victory by a cyclist whose career is forever tainted by his role in the Operación Puerto doping case.

Ultimately, there was no repeat of the dramatics of last year’s closing time trial, where Denis Menchov crashed on wet cobbles almost within sight of the finish, only to pick himself back up and complete his win. This year’s Verona finale – over cobbles again, but thankfully dry – was won by Saxo Bank‘s Gustav Erik Larsson in a time of 20:19. Basso finished 42 seconds down in 15th place, but crucially ahead of Arroyo, the only man with even a remote chance of beating him.

Basso’s first Giro win came in 2006, but was followed twelve months later by a two-year ban after he was identified as one of several cyclists in the Operación Puerto blood doping investigation, including 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich and Michele Scarponi, fourth overall in this Giro. After his ban expired in late 2008, he placed a strong fourth in both the 2009 Giro and Vuelta a España, but this was the first time since his return he has truly looked like the rider previously identified by Lance Armstrong as one of his biggest threats at the Tour.

It is too simplistic to point the finger at Basso and say that his race-winning performance over the past three weeks is evidence of a once-guilty man – he has never admitted to more than an intention to engage in blood doping – sinning again. To do so is tantamount to branding any competitor who wins any sporting event as a cheat, as opposed to one who has earned the right to call themselves a champion through a combination of talent and sheer hard work.

At this stage, it is not necessarily meaningful to draw comparisons between Basso and the other leading riders as we do not know who is in peak condition, and who is building up more gradually with a view to peaking at the Tour de France. Certainly, that is the case with Bradley Wiggins, who was openly stating before the Giro started that his 2010 season is all about the month of July. If Basso’s form remains strong relative to the other yellow jersey contenders at the Tour, then – and only then – we will have a basis for some realistic benchmarking.

Basso also clearly benefitted from the support of the strongest team in the Giro, with Liquigas placing three riders in the top ten. No other team possessed either the ability to control the front of the peloton the way Liquigas did, or a wing-man of the quality of Vincenzo Nibali (third overall). Both were key factors in ensuring Basso had to expend no more energy than absolutely necessary, a luxury not available to key rivals such as Cadel Evans and Alexandre Vinokourov.

In addition, let’s not forget that many of the top riders and their key squad members were absent altogether from the Giro. Vinokourov led a weakened Astana team missing two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador. RadioShackLance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and all – opted for the Tour of California over the Giro. Saxo Bank placed Richie Porte seventh overall, but this was with very much a second-string squad, missing Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt (all racing in California) and Andy’s brother Frank.

For now, despite my personal reservations about Basso’s past – which he does acknowledge, albeit opaquely – and the possible implications for his current form, we should take nothing away from his achievement.

This is a great moment for me in my sporting career. I went through a bad moment and now I am back in a good way. The team protected me 100% and had faith that I could win. This is something important we did as a team. I’m delighted, it was a really tough Giro. This victory is something fantastic, it was a spectacular Giro that was tense right to the end.

In Basso’s defence, since his return he has openly posted his training data and blood values online, and also works with Aldo Sassi, one of the sport’s most respected trainers. Pat McQuaid, president of the sport’s governing body, the UCI, also publicly backed the Italian as a ‘clean’ athlete subsequent to his ban.

I am pleased to see the battle between Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans. They are superb riders, 100% clean and give a good image to the sport.

Whatever you think about its winner, it has been a spectacular Giro d’Italia, with three weeks of close, frequently unpredictable racing, occasionally farcical but always enthralling. In the coming weeks we have some serious warm-up events such as the Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour de Suisse, before the main event of the cycling calendar, the Tour de France, which kicks off in Rotterdam on July 3rd. Make a date.

Final General Classification

1. Ivan Basso 87h 44m 01s

2.  David Arroyo @ 1:51 behind

3.  Vincenzo Nibali @ 2:37

4.  Michele Scarponi @ 2:50

5.  Cadel Evans @ 3:27

6.  Alexandre Vinokourov @ 7:06

7.  Richie Porte @ 7:22

8.  Carlos Sastre @ 9:39

9.  Marco Pinotti @ 14:20

10. Robert Kiserlovski @ 14:51

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

One Response to Basso wins Giro, but shadow of Operación Puerto remains

  1. Pingback: Tour de France preview, part 3: The contenders « The armchair sports fan

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