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Bruyneel Comments on Basso Signing - 11/18/2006

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel has responded to the critics over his decision to sign Italian star Ivan Basso. Bruyneel's decision to sign the Tour of Italy champion caused a ripple this week in the world of cycling, which is fighting for its credibility after a season marred by doping suspicion.

The Belgian said Saturday he is more than happy to have signed the "world's best rider," who recently emerged unscathed having been one of many riders implicated in a doping investigation in Spain which erupted in May. "I don't see how anyone can stop me from hiring the best rider in the world. I am very happy with my decision," Bruyneel said Saturday in an interview with the Belgian press. "Once all the charges against Ivan were dropped (...) we consulted four specialist lawyers to really look into all the rules, and the (ProTour) Code of Conduct," added Bruyneel. "They all came to the same conclusion: legally-speaking nothing can stop us from signing a contract with Basso."

Basso was one of around 58 top riders implicated in a Spanish doping investigation, dubbed 'Operation Puerto', ending his hopes of competing in the Tour de France. However the likelihood of sanctions hitting those implicated in the affair now appears slim.

The presiding judge of the investigation ruled that evidence could not be used for sanctions, and most of those implicated have finally returned to racing. Illegal substances and bags of blood were among the evidence discovered during Operation Puerto, however up until now Basso had refused to submit a DNA sample which could prove his innocence.

Basso and Discovery finally agreed on Friday that the Italian would provide a DNA sample if required by the Spanish authorities.

Bruyneel added: "There has never been a DNA issue. Ivan agreed through his lawyer even before we signed to give a sample. "He just wanted to make sure that the guarantees provided by the law would be respected."

However Bruyneel has refused to sign a far-reaching Code of Conduct that has been drawn up by cycling's elite league, the Pro Tour, in conjunction with the teams. In its search for credibility, Bruyneel said the code's far-reaching demands have "gone too far." "In its search for credibility cycling is going too far," he said. "I've got doubts on certain points (in the code of ethics). We believe that even an athlete is innocent until proven guilty."

Bruyneel added: "A French prosecutor announced an investigation of Lance Armstrong in January 2005. Just this month, 22 months later, he announced that he was dropping the case. Under the Code of Conduct, would we have had to sideline Lance from the 2005 Tour?" - AFP



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11/18/2006 Bruyneel comments on Basso signing
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