The fourth Amgen Tour of California begins with a prologue in downtown Sacramento February 14, and this year promises to be a doozy star-gazing wise: Lance Armstrong, Carlos Sastre, Floyd Landis, Tom Boonen, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie, Mark Cavendish, the Schleck brothers Frank and Andy, Fabian Cancellara, Oscar Freire, Tyler Hamilton...and Italian Ivan Basso.
The 2006 Giro d'Italia champion raced in support of Leipheimer on the Discovery Channel team in February 2007 before his contract was terminated in April, due to his association with Dr Eufemiano Fuentes in the pre 2006 Tour de France Operación Puerto that brought down Jan Ullrich and several other riders. Basso was given a two-year suspension, and returned to the pro peloton at the Japan Cup in October 2008. Now racing for Team Liquigas, the 31-year-old has been hard at work, training like a man with a new lease on life and his eyes set on another top podium spot in Rome May 31.
Basso's 2009 race programme began at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. While many of his rivals raced the Tour Down Under, Basso put in a hard effort during the seven-stage race to finish strongly in fifth overall. Now the real test comes in California, where Team Astana hopes to deliver Leipheimer a third consecutive victory with a loaded roster that includes a fired-up Armstrong, uber domestique Chris Horner, Yaroslav Popovych and Janez Brajkovic. Basso's teammates include Francesco Chicchi, Gianni Da Ros, and Alessandro Vanotti, all strong riders capable of smoothing out the path for Basso throughout the 800-mile stage race. With all the hub-bub over Armstrong and his Astana team getting fancy Trek Madones and Equinox TTX bikes, Basso's bike sponsor Cannondale has worked hard to deliver a new Slice Hi Mod carbon time trial machine, which Cannondale says is one of the lightest on the market.
BikeRadar's tech editor James Huang spent two hours in the saddle, chasing Ivan Basso and the Liquigas team in Sacramento
Time will tell how Basso delivers come the finish in Escondido on February 22, but for the time being, the Italian seems to be enjoying himself amidst the rain drops in Sacramento. BikeRadar's technical editor James Huang and I were scheduled to share some saddle time with Basso and his Tour of California teammates Thursday, but the logistics of the day did not allow it. We still rode two hours on Cannondale SuperSix Hi Mod bikes, chatting with Cannondale's global marketing director Rory Mason, an American based in Switzerland and fluent in multiple languages, who's been with the company long enough to see three owners and several Tour de France and Giro stage victories with Mario Cipollini, including the overall Giro trophy with Damiano Cunego in 2004.
Ciao bello, Ivan. It's good to have you back.