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Discovery Channel insiders could today hardly conceal their disappointment at missing out on the signing of Ivan Basso, who put pen to paper on a three-year contract extension with team CSC on Monday.
Johan Bruyneel appeared surprised and unnerved when journalists passed on the news of Basso's new deal during a Discovery Channel press conference in Pau yesterday. Meanwhile, at his own press gathering in Lescar, the Italian revealed that he had struck an agreement with CSC manager Bjarne Riis almost within minutes of the Dane making his first offer. While Basso had consulted his wife by telephone, clearly he had not informed Discovery of his intention to stay with CSC. "That's too bad for us," said Bruyneel on hearing the news.
As Lance Armstrong's manager and, along with Armstrong, one of six co-owners of Tailwind Sports, the company that owns the Discovery Channel team, Bill Stapleton had more reason than most to regret Basso's decision. Stapleton told procycling in Mourenx this morning that he was "very disappointed but wishes Ivan all the best with CSC". Asked whether Discovery Channel had been conducting negotiations with Basso last week, Stapleton declined to comment.
Armstrong, too, is thought to be frustrated. procycling sources indicate that the American had asked for Basso's mobile phone number at the start of the Tour with a view to calling and persuading the Italian to succeed him as the team's leader. It was clearly to no avail.
With Basso now off the market, Discovery may finally have to resign themselves to the end of their Tour reign. Bruyneel hinted yesterday that Yaroslav Popovych could be several years away from mounting a serious challenge for the yellow jersey, and, in Bruyneel's eyes, only Jan Ullrich and Basso are certain to contend for the Tour in 2006. Although it is believed that Bruyneel is still keen on signing Alexandre Vinokourov, he does not regard the Kazakh as a potential Tour winner. "Vino is very aggressive, wins a lot of races, and is certainly one of the best riders in the peloton, but I don't think that he can win the Tour," said Bruyneel.
This leaves Ullrich and surely takes us into the realm of fantasy cycling. Olaf Ludwig, who will take over the reins of the T-Mobile team next year, yesterday seemed confident that Ullrich would remain with the German team until the end of his career, which could come as early as the end of 2006. "Ullrich is our talisman and will be until the end of his career," Ludwig commented.
Oh well, it was a nice idea.
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