Team CSC stands behind Ivan Basso
Editor's note: Team CSC rider Bobby Julich will be providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. A teammate of Ivan Basso, Julich on Friday commented on the scandal that pulled Basso from the competition. Here is a transcript of that interview.
Question from ESPN.com: Bobby, obviously, this isn't the way you wanted to start the Tour de France. How's Team CSC right now?
Answer from Bobby Julich: This is a sad moment again. Here we are, back again in the headlines for a negative thing. There seems like there was an investigation down in Spain that was going on during the Giro [d'Italia], and during that time there Ivan was, destroying the competition. Somehow, his name got involved with this investigation, and I asked him point blank [Thursday] in front of the team, when we had our team meeting, if he had anything to do with this, and he said he had absolutely nothing to do with it. So, that was enough for me and enough for my team to know that, OK, somehow his name is racked up in this.
He put it like this to us: "Sometimes you ride your bike fast and people automatically assume you're doing something wrong. I may have to pay the price for riding my bike too fast and beating the competition by 9½ minutes in the Giro, but I can guarantee you, I have nothing to do with this and may have to leave the Tour, but I will immediately start fighting to clear my name" and he wished us luck.
We were hoping that this wasn't concerning him, because we all know the sacrifices he makes, the way he works. When you spend a lot of time with a person, you think you get to know them. The most important thing to emphasize right now is that he's under investigation. There's a large, gray area right now.
Q: From an American sports perspective, the team leaders are saying the evidence is conclusive, overwhelming, the riders are out. There didn't seem to be any question.
A: That's exactly the problem. There's a 500-page report and there is no cut-and-dry evidence at this moment, in my opinion. With the pro tour and the Tour de France, there's strict rules that any rider that's "under investigation" in a doping case has to be removed from the Tour de France. And that's the situation we're in right now. We're being told there's no concrete proof right now. They've seemed to put together and assume a lot of things because Ivan was strong in the Giro [d'Italia]. That's what gives us motivation to continue because, obviously, if there was some strong evidence against Ivan, during our team meeting [Friday], there would have been a lot more nervous people. Because, it's not just a story of Ivan Basso, but a story of CSC's reputation at stake.
We've always known, or at least since I've been with the team, that there's been something special about this team, and it has nothing to do with performance-enhancing substances. It's our reputations, our jobs, our livelihood on the line here. Guys would have been a lot more nervous about keeping their jobs if there was some concrete evidence against [Basso]. When a guy of Ivan's character looks us all in the eye and tells us he has nothing to do with this, I don't take it as a normal denial from a cheater, I take it as an honest response. And that's why we're staying in the Tour and we're motivated to continue and motivated to do well. We're not the No. 1 team in the world because of one rider. We have more options.
Obviously, it's a big blow to our team [to lose Basso]. In America, with baseball, people that are under investigation are still playing, so there has to be positive proof that someone was involved. In cycling, it seems, sadly enough, that you don't need to have proof to have someone under investigation.
It definitely changes the makeup of the race. This is going to change everything, but if this is a necessary thing to clean up cycling in the long run, this is a positive thing. Right now, we're sad and devastated for Ivan, that he can't show his talent in a race that he lives for, but the bigger picture is cleaning up the sport of cycling and getting it back to a level where people don't assume that every cyclist is doped, because that's definitely not the case.
Q: Have you seen the report? Have you seen any connection between the ASO [Amaury Sport Organization] report of steroids, blood transfusion equipment, frozen blood and Ivan?
A: No, that's the thing that really sucks is that we have to sit here and accept this as a fact because he's officially under investigation. There's nothing we've been told at this point [that connects him]. Obviously, that's the first question the rest of us asked: Is this true? Or there better be some damn good evidence against him in order to remove him. That's the hard part to deal with for me right now. In America, we're used to presumed innocent. With this investigation, you're presumed guilty. The worst thing for me will be if, three or four days from now, Ivan goes down, gives his DNA, does whatever he needs to do to clear his name, and is cleared, but the Tour has already started without him. That really is the hard part for me.
In my opinion, if there is absolutely indisputable evidence that he's involved, then I'm sorry, but we have to accept that, and that would be the most disappointing thing in my career, that I would have to accept that a guy like Ivan was cheating.
Q: Was there talk among the team that you wouldn't race as a team if Basso wasn't there?
A: For a brief moment there, we were like, "We're a team, you're our leader." We talked a lot about never leaving anybody behind and that we stick together and fight. But it's also a reality, as on the battlefield, that when your leader goes down, you have to still accomplish your objective, that the roles may change but you still have a goal to accomplish.
It was only about a two- to three-minute emotion that passed, and then we said, "We're the No. 1 team in the world, we have nothing to hide," and nothing would be accomplished by the whole team withdrawing. To me, that would be an admission of guilt rather than an admission of sticking together. So, we have nothing to hide and we're going to go out there and do the best possible race we can with the eight riders out there. I can guarantee you that CSC is not built around just one rider. We have many cards to play. Now, [the Tour] is absolutely open to anybody.
This sport hurts. Anyone that doesn't want to sacrifice, doesn't want to suffer and have ups and downs, they shouldn't be a pro bike racer because it's not an easy lifestyle and there's no easy way out. A lot of athletes, not just in cycling but all sports, choose the easy way, the lazy way -- to cheat. It's not acceptable in cycling and it shouldn't be accepted in any sport or life. It just seems like human nature and that's it's always going to be there.
Q: It seems that to cheat in cycling, it seems like more work, going through transfusions, etc., than just natural training.
A: I am 100 percent convinced on that. The stress and risk that you take to improve your performance is next to zero of leading a guilt-free lifestyle, just going out and spending that time on your bike. That's the message. I'm not going to get up on a soapbox about doping all the time. But every time I am at the airport waiting for a flight or in the peloton talking to some young rider, that's exactly what I say. "Listen, the risk and the stress that you put on yourself to make some stupid decision like that is not worth it in the end at all. It's up to these young generations of riders that are clean, that none of their teammates or acquaintances, that they don't even get involved in this. As long as they don't spit in their own soup, they'll be able to enjoy it. Pass that on to the generation after them. We have to go out and ride a clean Tour, put this crap behind us and just ride our bikes.
Q: Is there any coincidence that this happened the day before the Tour de France begins?
A: This has nothing to do with coincidence. As journalists, you understand timing. These guys have had these documents in their hands for over a month now. And you're going to tell me now that they just sifted through it and came up with the names? But it wouldn't have the real sting to it if they announced it two weeks ago. There are names there that obviously media-worthy. The thing that stinks for us is that there were other athletes in other sports that were apparently involved, but our names and sport are the only ones being dragged through the mud.
Q: There were some, when they heard the news, who made the connection to Lance Armstrong. The one year he's not in the Tour, there's a scandal, that he got out at the right time.
A: I think that once you are truly dominant at what you do, there's always going to be suspicion and speculative ideas of how you got there. Lance has had to pay that price many times over. He's been involved in court cases, but he was never under investigation as far as I know, and as soon as he leaves, the heir to his throne [Basso], the guy that wins the Giro, is all of a sudden under investigation and out of the Tour. It's a moot point because [Lance] is not here and it obviously doesn't involve him at all.
It's sad to see the press always go after the guy that is winning. It's the logical choice. And it seems like sometimes it's not worth winning. And Ivan really felt that pressure in the Giro and Ivan would say to us, "Listen I've been with Lance on the climbs, just him and I, for the last two years straight and I've never had anything because all of the suspicion has gone to Lance and not me. Now I'm in the lead at the Giro, in the hard mountain stages and because Lance isn't there anymore and I'm by myself, they are giving it all to me now."
That really stinks because this really is a team sport, but it's the individuals that get the glory. It seems to me that people that sit at home and make the decision without even knowing the people forming the opinions on radio/TV, assumption makes an ass out of you and me in this case. Who knows what the truth is, but that's what makes it so difficult for us right now because there's no proof. Ivan's just under investigation.
Q: What are the next 24 hours going to be like for you and the team?
A: It's going to be a distraction. But it's going to be a distraction we have to deal with. We've dealt with just as difficult, if not more difficult, things in the past as a team. But as far as I'm concerned, our training today was compromised, but tomorrow, now that this [is] out and the decisions have been made, it at least puts to rest the rumors we were hearing, which were more frustrating.
We are going to focus on this race, we have some favorites on the team for [Stage 1] and we're going to move past this and show our strength as a team. It wasn't just Ivan's goal to be ready for the Tour, it was the rest of our riders and our staff and all of our directors. We're not just going to close up the truck and go home with our tail between our legs, we're going to fight. The best way to move on is to win the yellow [Saturday] and defending it and ride aggressively and try to win the Tour no matter what.
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race.