Italian rider Ivan Basso is quitting the Tour de France after revealing on Monday that he has testicular cancer.
The two-time former Giro d’Italia winner was due to be a key support rider for one of the favourites, Alberto Contador, in the mountain stages beginning on Tuesday.
But instead the 37-year-old — who has previously served a two-year doping ban — said he is heading back to Italy for treatment.
“Unfortunately I have a bad announcement to give to you guys,” Basso said at the Tinkoff-Saxo team’s hotel in Pau on Monday’s Tour rest day.
“In stage number five I had a really small crash and on the crash I touched my testicle on the saddle.
“For a few days I felt a small pain. Yesterday (Sunday) our doctor spoke with the doctor of the Tour and we decided to go to make a special analysis to the hospital.
“The examination gave me bad news: I have a small cancer in the left testicle.
“So it’s easy to understand that I have to stop and go back to Italy. Our doctor is already in contact with the specialist in Italy to fix the operation as soon as possible.
“I can’t say to you more details because we discovered this two hours ago, so that’s all.
“I have to leave but I want to give my support to our captain (Contador) to be in yellow in Paris and want to say thanks to my team for their support in this situation and the whole Tour organisation and medical staff.”
An emotional Contador said the news had been hard to take both for him personally and the rest of the team.
“It has been a very tough day for the whole team; we never imagined something like that,” he said.
“Now the first thing is to analyse what’s happened to Ivan, to support him and hope that everything’s resolved as soon as possible.
“We want to give Ivan the support of the whole team and you can be sure we will fight for the yellow jersey to bring him yellow in Paris.
“For me it has been very hard because over the last 180 days we spent 120 days together and we have been very close to each other. But I’m sure that we will be together again in Paris to celebrate the Tour victory.”
– Armstrong support –
Other riders past and present offered their support to Basso, including disgraced former star Lance Armstrong, who overcame testicular cancer before becoming an inspiration to millions of people by going on to win the seven Tour titles he was later stripped of once the extent of his drug-cheating was exposed.
“Thinking about @ivanbasso and wishing him the very best as he embarks on his cancer journey. #ivanSTRONG!!” he wrote on Twitter.
Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 but recovered to go on and dominate the Tour de France while he also set up a charitable foundation called Livestrong, which raised money to battle the disease.
He has even caused controversy at this Tour — where he is considered a pariah — after accepting an invitation from another cancer survivor, former England international footballer Geoff Thomas, to ride a couple of stages of this year’s Tour route a day ahead of the race to raise money for Thomas’s cancer charity the Geoff Thomas Foundation.
Basso was once one of Armstrong’s great rivals, finishing third behind the American in 2004 and second during Armstrong’s last Tour win in 2005.
Basso won the Giro in 2006 but then served a two-year ban for “attempted doping” related to his links to drug-doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
After returning to the sport, Basso won the Giro again in 2010.
He quickly received support from some of his current rivals.
Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde said: “On behalf of the whole team we want to give him the best wishes in the world.
“It’s a shame that these things happen, but that’s life and he has our sympathy and support.”
Nairo Quintana, also from Movistar, added: “We’re a little sad for this news and from now we send him a lot of strength and all the support of the team for whatever he needs.” – Agence France-Presse