ROME, Jan 17, 2008 (AFP) - Disgraced former Tour of Italy champion Ivan Basso claimed Thursday that his two-year doping suspension was the best thing to happen to him.

Basso was tipped to win the 2006 Tour de France, shortly after cruising to victory in the Tour of Italy, but he was caught up in the infamous Operation Puerto scandal and barred from taking part.

He later admitted to having contacted the tainted laboratory involved in the affair with the view to blood-doping, a move that earned him a two-year ban from the sport.

He has spent his time working for various charities.

"I feel like a better man, to paraphrase (Lance) Armstrong, the ban was the best thing that could have happened to me," said Basso in an interview on

"It gave me time to reflect, it's turned my life around and now I'm ready to come back."

Despite enjoying this time off, he has continued to train and he is eager to come back and fulfil one of his dreams, winning the Tour de France.

"That's my dream but I don't want to think too far ahead," he added. "I prefer to take small steps, like holding out a hand to a child."

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