Drama, drugs busts, accusations of bribery
– this year’s Giro d’Italia had it all. Even in Saturday’s second last stage,
eventual winner Ivan Basso was accused of offering money to Gilberto Simoni to let him win the stage, a claim Basso later denied.

“I won’t allow anyone to ruin my victory,”
he said after winning the stage. The Italian Cycling Federation will
investigate the claim.

Basso, who won the Giro by the biggest
margin in 40 years (nine minutes 18 seconds), now has the chance to win the rare
Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double, last won by Marco Pantani in 1998.

One of his major rivals in France will be
Jan Ullrich, who pulled out of the Giro on Friday citing back troubles. Ullrich
was sitting in 42nd place at the time, more than 45 minutes behind Basso. With
two draining mountain stages ahead, Ullrich’s withdrawal appears to be a case
of self-preservation, but there are those suggesting there was more to it.

In a sensational drug case that broke last
week, Ullrich was linked to Eufemiano Fuentes, a Spanish doctor who was taken
into custody by the Spanish civil guard to face doping charges. The 32-year-old
rider claims never to have worked with Fuentes, and says he would have
pulled out of the Giro earlier but didn’t want to be seen to be hiding from
claims he was involved with Fuentes.

Having already claimed some major scalps
and cost one of Spain’s most prestigious teams – Liberty Seguros – its major
sponsor, the case look set to reach deep into pro-cycling. Lance Armstrong has
called it the most serious doping scandal to face international cycling in the
last decade.

Meanwhile, Ullrich has
retreated to Switzerland to train for the Tour, while Basso claims he now has
the know-how to go one better than he did in last year’s big race, when he
finished second behind Lance Armstrong. All appears in readiness for another
dramatic Tour de France.

Peter Fray

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