WESTLAKE VILLAGE, California (VN) — The Cannondale team camp was one of Hollywood charm, with a faux red carpet and planted paparazzi, even, greeting the team’s riders and press at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios Saturday night.
Stars, they’re always rising and falling, both in life and in cycling. The star of Cannondale’s Peter Sagan burns brighter than ever, for example, while a past star, that of Lance Armstrong, is but flicker of its former self, due to an anti-doping report that left little doubt of blood doping and drug use.
Armstrong’s name came up at Cannondale’s new team launch over the weekend in the Los Angeles area, and one of the Texan’s long-time rivals — and short-lived Discovery rider — says he hasn’t read the papers this offseason, and that he doesn’t care what Armstrong says in a taped TV interview Thursday with Oprah Winfrey.
Ivan Basso, the 35-year-old road captain of the Cannondale squad and former Giro d’Italia champion on two occasions, famously dueled Armstrong for years, en route to four top 10s at the Tour de France. He also served a doping ban of his own for two years, from 2006 to 2008, ensnared in Operacion Puerto. It was that forced break, which came after Basso had signed with Armstrong’s Discovery Channel squad, that seems to have shaped his emotions on the issue of Armstrong into something of a “live and let live” approach.
“When you have a break like that, you’re suffering a lot. You feel very bad. In front of your wife, in front of your baby, in front of yourself when you look in the [mirror]. And you start again. You win again like before. Everybody respects you again because you show to everybody what you do. You put the training on the website, you put the blood values. Everybody can see and look what you do. Finally, if you’re suffering a lot, you put all your past behind your shoulder,” Basso told VeloNews. “If you look in the television and have something about your generation, maybe you are interested, maybe not. Why [do I] have to read about something if I don’t want to think anymore? I don’t use my time to read something I’m not interested [in]. Because I use that time for thinking something to help my new team, not to read an article from eight years ago. For what?”
Basso said the sentiment wasn’t only his, but that of many: “If you go on the road it’s the same. A million people thinking like me. I tell you. Believe me.”
Pressed on the matter of the need to look back from an anti-doping and sporting standpoint, Basso said he understood others’ perspectives but maintained his own.
“Listen, the journalists always ask. If you ask me, it’s too much. But I respect all the people who want to look on the back. I respect everybody. But if you want to know my opinion, I don’t use my time to thinking about the past. But I look in the future for myself. But I respect a lot all the people who want to know, want to learn, want to hear,” the Italian said.
Basso, though booted from the sport himself for two years, raced Armstrong close at the Tour, save time trials where he always bled too much time to the American to pose a threat. With Armstrong deposed from his seven Tour titles, however, Basso is officially the top finisher — at second — in the 2005 Tour and holds the uneasy honor of being the only podium finisher in that edition to not be stripped of the result for doping. (Jan Ullrich, third, was stripped of his result over his Puerto ban.) Basso said he was happy to have raced with the American, but that the Tours were always about more than just Armstrong.
“In the bunch we don’t have only Lance,” he said. “In the Tour, we start not two people, we start 198. You spoke about one rider. It’s not respectful of the other riders. You have to ask me, ‘you like to ride the Tour de France in 2005 and four and three and one?’ Not with lance. I ride with Lance but… of course I’m happy to ride Tour de France in 2005, because it’s part of my career. But I don’t want to think now about 2005. 2005? It’s eight years ago. Eight. I think it’s a little too much.”
A little too much?
“For thinking, yes,” he said.