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International Road
Friday's EuroFile: Where will Basso land? Lombardi retires; Puerto limbo
By Andrew Hood
VeloNews European correspondent
This report filed October 20, 2006

Ivan Basso might not have it so easy finding a new team for the 2007 season as the cloud of doping allegations look likely to continue to haunt the Italian rider despite being cleared by Italian officials last week of any possible sanctions.

Will Basso be at next year's Giro?

photo: AFP file photo.

The 2006 Giro d'Italia champion "divorced" with his Team CSC this week in a mutual agreement that frees the Italian from the remaining two years on his contract with the Danish team. Despite initial reports that Basso might be tipped to join Discovery Channel or Milram, both teams have denied interest Basso.

Milram officials said the Puerto links to Basso soured their attraction. Despite Basso's insistence that Discovery Channel had offered him a deal, teams officials said until Basso is completely cleared of any chance of sanctions they will likely not try to sign him.

"As long as things are not clear, there's no real offer from our part," Discovery Channel sport director Dirk Demol told Eurosport. "As long as he is not free from everything, for us there is no reason to offer him a contract."

Discovery Channel, however, has shown previous interest in Basso and will be keen to sign him if his situation is clarified in the coming weeks.

Basso's future was thrown into doubt when he and eight other riders from four teams kicked out of the 2006 Tour de France when his name was linked to the alleged blood doping ring uncovered by Spanish police in May.

Basso vehemently denied working with alleged mastermind Eufemiano Fuentes. Despite circumstantial evidence linking Basso to Fuentes uncovered in police raids and phone taps, officials from the Italian Olympic federation recommended last week that a disciplinary process against Basso not be opened for lack of concrete evidence.

The Italian authorities, however, said the case could move forward if new evidence is uncovered. UCI officials have also said they will make appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to try to enforce sanctions against riders allegedly linked to the blood doping ring if respective governing bodies don't hand down bans.

With the threat of sanctions still hanging over his head, most ProTour teams will likely be wary to sign the potentially troublesome Basso. The ProTour Ethics Code doesn't allow riders to race while they are under investigation for alleged doping infractions.

Basso, meanwhile, remains confident he will find a team for the 2007. He's continued to train and insists he's in top shape and motivated to come back to competition to win another major tour.

In an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Basso didn't discount joining an Italian team and hinted that the British-based Barloworld squad, headed up by former Saeco boss Claudio Corti, could be another option.

Lombardi retires
Veteran Italian Giovanni Lombardi has decided to retire and this weekend's Valencia circuit race will be his last competition despite going into the season with another year remaining on his contract with Team CSC.

Lombardi, 37, won the Olympic gold medal in 1992 in the points race before embarking on a successful 14-year professional career. Also prolific on the track, Lombardi won stages in the Giro d'Italia as well as the Vuelta a España for a career total of 41 wins while serving as set-up man for such sprinters as Mario Cipollini and Erik Zabel.

Lombardi joined Team CSC in 2004 to become the team's road captain and confidante of Ivan Basso. Some believed Lombardi was linked to the "Operación Puerto" investigation through the nickname "Amigo de Birillo" found in police documents, an allegation Lombardi vehemently denied. No official efforts to link Lombardi to the Puerto investigation ever gained traction.

Lombardi, who lives in downtown Madrid, will now work as a rider's representative and will continue to work closely with Basso in his efforts to find a new team for 2007.

Spanish riders remain in limbo
The Spanish cycling federation still hasn't decided whether it will pursue sanctions against riders implicated in the Operación Puerto doping investigation still ongoing in Spain.

The Spanish federation met this week, but still hasn't revealed exactly how it will handle the cases. With more than 40 Spanish riders evidently linked to the alleged blood doping ring, the Spanish federation is trying to be prudent before committing to opening disciplinary hearings or closing cases against racers.

Some expected the Spanish authorities to follow the Italian example set with Ivan Basso, who was cleared of any possible sanctions in a decision last week. Insiders say the Spanish federation has taken a more conservative stance and want to see if Spanish investigators can finalize the investigation in the next few weeks. They've tabled any decision for at least a week.

Efforts to sanction riders suffered a setback last month when Carmelo Jiménez, the Spanish judge overseeing the investigation, ruled that evidence gathered so far cannot be used to sanction riders while the investigation is still open.

Spanish investigators are reportedly trying to convince riders to give affidavits about how the alleged blood doping ring was organized and operated. They are also following up on tips with links in Germany and Italy.

With the European road racing season over, the Puerto mess looks like it won't be solved anytime soon.