Gazzetta dello Sport takes aim at Ivan Basso as it publishes doping 'evidence'
Italian rider says he started working with Fuentes in 2005 and never actiualy took PEDs; Italian sports daily claims otherwise
Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport has today published documentation it says it has obtained from the Operacion Puerto investigation that it claims proves that Ivan Basso was working with Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes as early as 2003, contrary to testimony provided yesterday by the Cannondale rider himself during the trial in Madrid of Fuentes and others accused of public health offences.
Giving evidence by video link from Tenerife, where he is training, Basso, banned for two years in 2007 for his links to the doping scandal, repeated the claim he made then that he never actually doped, but only planned to do so.
He also said that while he had met Fuentes for the first time while training in the Canaries in the winter of 2001/02, it was only in late 2005 that he actually engaged the services of the doctor for a planned doping programme for the 2006 season that he hoped would bring him Tour de France success.
Basso would not ride that race, excluded after he was linked to Operacion Puerto in the run-up to the Tour.
However, the Gazzetta dello Sport, which at the weekend levelled detailed accusations at former world champion Mario Cipollini, denied by his lawyer, has in effect accused Basso of lying under oath.
In its print edition today, the Milan-based sports daily published images of handwritten notes claimed to in Fuentes’s handwritten and to date from 2003 and 2004 and which it says provide evidence of Basso’s blood doping and use of other banned substances including EPO.
Yesterday’s proceedings saw a sharp contrast between the level of disclosure made by the first two cyclists to give testimony, with Basso’s evidence preceded by the now retired Jörg Jaksche giving comprehensive and damning details of his own drug use.
Jaksche, now aged 36 and who admitted doping in 2007, had been one of the key witnesses in the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation against Lance Armstrong. At the time the Operacion Puerto scandal broke in 2006, he was riding for the Liberty Seguros team and had been due to ride the Tour de France prior to the team’s exclusion.
Jaksche spent four hours detailing his dealings with the doctor. Quoted in The Guardian, Jaskche gave an in-depth explanation of how Fuentes went about conducting blood transfusions, outlining 15 separate occasions in 2005 and 2006 when he had been subject to such procedures or administered performance enhancing substances.
"Blood was first extracted, then a month later some more was extracted, then the old removed blood would be transfused," he explained. "This would allow my blood levels to be restored."
Fuentes, he said, used the map in the official guide to the Tour de France to co-ordinate where he had arranged to meet riders clandestinely while on the race, so heavily covered in notes that you could "barely make out the shape of France."
The hurried nature of some transfusions also had side-effects, said Jaksche. "Sometimes when we were in a hurry and the blood bag hadn't reached the right temperature, my arm would get cold and when I got home I wouldn't feel too well."
While Fuentes has claimed that the blood doping procedures he used to treat riders were conducted solely in the interests of health, the German ex-pro was adamant that improved performance was the goal.
He also said that he had been treated in Germany by an associate of Fuentes, whom he named as Markus Choina, a Polish doctor who has been linked to alleged doping at the Spanish football club, Real Sociedad.
Jaksche also said that to begin with, he was under the impression that his team would settle with Fuentes for the treatment he was receiving, but over time it became clear that he was expected to pay – relatively small sums at the outset, but escalating to €4,000 for a single bag of blood to be transfused. He added that Fuentes offered a discount for two bags.
Basso, too, admitted making payments to Fuentes - €15,000 of an agreed total of €70,000 for a programme drawn up in 2005 aimed at helping him win the 2006 Tour de France, interrupted after the Guardia Civil raided Fuentes’s clinic and the Operacion Puerto scandal broke.
The Italian, riding for CSC, where he had been a team mate of Jaksche in 2004, had finished runner-up to Armstrong in the 2005 Tour – a title the American has of course been stripped of – and wanted to maximise his chances of winning the 2006 race.
"I contacted Dr Fuentes because his system could give me an advantage in cycling," he admitted yesterday, giving testimony by videolink from Tenerife.
"I acknowledge that on my account it was a weakness, a weakness so as to pursue a dream to win [the Tour]," adding that he withheld his dealings with Fuentes from his family and team.
Besides Basso’s insistence that he only planned to dope and never actually submitted himself to any of the treatments that Fuentes had planned for him, there is one big unanswered question.
Five weeks prior to that planned assault on the Tour de France in 2006, Basso had convincingly won the Giro d’Italia. The Tour and Giro double had previously been achieved by Marco Pantani in 1998, victories almost certainly achieved through doping. No-one has achieved the Tour and Giro double in the same year since then.
If Basso is to be believed, he drew up a plan with Fuentes in late 2005 to artificially enhance his performance at the Tour de France the following year, but that programme wouldn’t have included the Giro, which finished a month before the Tour began, and several months after he says the pair began collaborating.
It's a claim it seems valid to treat with a fair degree of scepticism.
There’s one thing that Basso and Jaksche do have in common though when it comes to Operacion Puerto – in both cases, the codename Fuentes assigned to them was that of their pet dogs, Birillo in the Italian’s case, Bella for the German.
It probably seemed a cute idea at the time. But if there’s one thing any dog owner knows, it’s that our canine friends aren’t in the Lance Armstrong league when it comes to hiding their guilt and brazening things out.
While the riders respective dogs are of course entirely innocent here, their names on Fuentes’s paperwork gave investigators as sure a sign that something was amiss as when you come home to be greeted by a pup with its ears pinned back, an imploring look in its eyes, and a trail of destruction behind it.