PIC BY TIM DE WAELE
Barloworld manager Claudio Corti confirmed on Thursday that his professional division team has offered Ivan Basso the chance to relaunch the career which has been on hold since the Italian's exclusion from the Tour de France in July.
Speaking to procycling, Corti said that he had "made Basso a few proposals in the past fortnight or so".
"The press say we're close to signing him?...What's close? There's contact and there's interest on our part, but I don't think that we are the only ones. If Basso's been talking about 'concrete offers', then frankly I don't know whether ours is one of them," Corti commented.
The Italian's comments will no doubt add to speculation that Barloworld are waiting in the wings should rumours of Discovery Channel's move for Basso prove unfounded. Disco directeur sportif Dirk Demol hinted yesterday that may be the case in an interview with Belgian radio station sporza.be. "We have always had an interest in Basso, and the other way round. But we have still presented nothing concrete to him."
Reports in the Italian press indicate that Basso and his former team-mate turned agent Giovanni Lombardi are keen to resolve his future in the coming days. That will be music to Corti's ears, as the Barloworld chief says that he can't wait much longer. "We'll talk again in the next few days, but he needs to make up his mind soon. Time is passing and we need to sort out our team for next year," the ex-Saeco boss said.
A logical reading of the situation casts Barloword as Basso's preferred contingency if Discovery decide the Italian brings too much baggage to welcome into the fold. Ominously for Basso, Demol suggested yesterday that the Italian Olympic Committee's decision to end its investigation into Basso's alleged links with Dr Eufemiano Fuentes hadn't quashed all suspicion. "We really must wait until [Basso's] name is cleared," Demol said.
Some have already leapt to the conclusion that Discovery's interest in Basso hasn't so much cooled as been frozen by pressure from the UCI and its president Pat McQuaid. Similarly, it's easy to speculate that Basso has told journalists in the past 24 hours that he is "willing to consider a team outside the ProTour" simply because he realises that he is a persona non grata in cycling's elite club.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that it isn't just blue-chip budgets and entry to the sport's most prestigious events that are confined to the ProTour, but also any qualms about signing riders with stains on their reputation - whether those qualms are dictated by a moral conscience or a much-disputed ethical code.
Your faith isn't restored, either, when you ask if Barloworld aren't a little concerned about doubts which linger over Basso and the phone suddenly goes dead. And it rings out on all subsequent attemps to re-establish contact.