Italian cyclist Ivan Basso has been ruled out of the Tour de France halfway through the competition after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
The 37-year-old, who races for Russian-owned Tinkoff-Saxo as a teammate of former champion Alberto Contador, announced his withdrawal during an emotional press conference on Monday, shortly after receiving the diagnosis from a doctor.
“For a few days I felt a small pain,” he said in Pau, France, the site of the tour’s first rest day. “Yesterday 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,” he said.
Team doctor Piet De Moor confirmed the diagnosis.
“On stage five of the Tour de France, Basso suffered from a minor crash in which his left testicle was slightly injured,” he said via a statement on the team’s website.
“As the pain persisted, a lump was discovered and following further examination on Monday morning at the hospital in Pau, the presence of a tumor was confirmed.”
Teammate Contador was visibly emotional at Basso’s side during the press conference.
“We never imagined such a thing would happen,” Contador said. “Ivan’s health is the absolute priority and he has to undergo all the necessary tests to find the best solution. I’d like to stress that the entire team will give its best in order to get the yellow jersey and enjoy it in Paris with him.”
Well wishers flooded Twitter with messages of support for Basso, most notably cylcing stars including testicular cancer survivors Markel Irizar and Lance Armstrong – who famously conquered the disease at age 25, despite catching it in its third stage.
“During the 120 days that Ivan and I spent together, over the last 180 days, I was able to see what a great champion he is,” added Contador. “I’m sure he will overcome this and we will see him in two weeks in Paris.”
Basso won the Giro d’Italia in 2006 and 2010, his greatest triumphs to date.
Contador is one of the favorites for this year’s Tour and he currently trails leader Chris Froome by one minute and three seconds.
But Tinkoff-Saxo’s Head Sport Director Steven de Jongh insisted that Basso’s health is the team’s primary concern, although they hope to honor him by helping Contador to victory in Paris on July 26.
“As everybody understands, today is not a day to speak about the Tour de France, the days ahead or Alberto’s main rivals on the mount stages. All that is irrelevant and we are all here solely to support Ivan,” said De Jongh.
“The entire team hopes to meet him again in Paris and hand him the yellow jersey.”