- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

2:25 p.m.

Italian cyclist Ivan Basso quit the Discovery Channel team after Italian authorities reopened an investigation into his role in a Spanish doping scandal.

Less than two weeks before he was slated to defend his Giro d’Italia title, Basso asked during a meeting yesterday with Discovery officials to be released immediately from his contract, the team said in a statement today.

“This was a very difficult decision, for me and my family, but I think it is the right thing to do,” Basso said. “The team is trying to find a new sponsor and win bike races, and my situation is a distraction to both of those goals. It is important that everyone knows this was 100 percent my decision.”

Basso is scheduled to appear Wednesday before the Italian Olympic Committee on charges of having used or attempted to use a banned substance or method. The Discovery team already had suspended Basso from riding last week.

“Ivan’s request was unexpected, and he was very emotional, but adamant, about his decision to be released,” said Discovery director Johan Bruyneel. “We spoke with him at length before granting his request.”

The 29-year-old cyclist was one of 50 riders implicated in last year’s Operation Puerto, which led to his exclusion from the 2006 Tour de France. His name appeared on a list of cyclists who reportedly had contact with a Spanish doctor accused of running a blood doping clinic in Madrid.

Italian investigators reportedly have obtained bags suspected of containing Basso’s blood and want to compare them with his DNA. This month, a DNA sample of 1997 Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich was matched to blood bags seized in the scandal. The now-retired German has denied using any banned substances.

Basso repeatedly has denied doping and was cleared of involvement by the Italian Olympic Committee and the Italian cycling federation last October.

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