Operation Puerto 'shattered me', admits shamed Basso

'I'm in a sort of hell at the moment'

Italian Ivan Basso, the sole cyclist to have been sanctioned in the initial stages of the Operation Puerto blood-doping affair, said the inquiry had left him "shattered."

Speaking after Thursday's reopening of Operation Puerto, Basso told El Pais newspaper in Madrid that the two-year ban he received had left him marooned.

"I'm in a sort of hell at the moment: alone, abandoned by everyone and working on in silence," the 30-year-old said. "I made an error, I must pay for that and come back with my head held high," he said, adding that he would try to continue cycling professionally until he was 36 or 37.

The 2006 Tour of Italy winner was suspended for two years in June 2007 by the Italian Cycling Federation for his involvement in the Puerto affair.

Dozens of other cyclists - including Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Tour de France winner Alberto Contador - have in the past been linked to the controversy.

Operation Puerto initially erupted in May 2006 after a raid on the Madrid laboratory of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes uncovered doping products, bags of blood and codenames which appeared to link top athletes to a highly-organised system of doping via blood transfusions. But the case was closed in March 2007 because there did not exist in Spain a law which punished behaviour related to doping.

Since then, this gap in the legal system has been filled by a new law dated November 21 last year designed to protect health and fight against doping in sport.

A source linked to the Spanish government told AFP on Thursday that Madrid prosecutors claimed there could be new evidence on possible discrepancies concerning the obtaining, transport, preservation and identification of bags of blood seized during the inquiry.

© AFP 2008

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