Milan: Italian Ivan Basso wrapped up his second Giro d`Italia title, arriving at a packed Roman amphitheatre to a hero`s welcome just three years after being banned in disgrace.
The Liquigas rider, winner in 2006, had another victory all but sealed and carefully negotiated the cobbled streets of Verona to ensure there were no late calamities on the final time trial of the three-week race.
"It`s a fantastic day for me," Basso, 15th on the 21st and last stage, told reporters after finishing his 87 hours 44 minutes and one second journey.
"The Giro has been spectacular and uncertain and the fans have enjoyed themselves. I thank my team who have been exceptional. It`s been really difficult."
Roared on by throngs of compatriots who lined the 15 kilometre route through the city of Romeo and Juliet, Basso reaffirmed his love for the world`s second biggest stage race by unleashing a huge smile as he crossed the line.
The 32-year-old then entered Verona`s Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world, to be greeted by thousands more screaming fans and his two small children.
There he went up a specially-constructed pink carpet to claim his pink winner`s jersey and complete a cycling resurrection few other drug-haunted riders have managed.
Basso was banned for two years in 2007 for his involvement in Spain`s Operacion Puerto doping scandal, the latest in a series to rock the troubled sport.
He said he had not actually doped but had intended to do so and acknowledged he should therefore receive a suspension.