Basso crowned Giro king

Ivan Basso has justified his status as favourite for the 2006 Tour de France by sealing victory in t

Ivan Basso has justified his status as favourite for the 2006 Tour de France by sealing victory in t
Nine-months. Nine measly months. That is all it has taken for professional cycling to find its new people's champion, Lance Armstrong's natural successor, a bridge to a new era. Ivan Basso today wrapped up victory at the Giro and confirmed that he can be all three of those things. Gerolsteiner's Robert Forster sprinted to victory in the final stage of the Corsa Rosa in central Milan this afternoon, but the plaudits were all for the remarkable Basso. The CSC rider's 9-18 margin of victory over runner-up Phonak's Jose Gutierrez only partially conveys his dominance over past three weeks. The anals of the Giro will record that Basso won three of the six mountain stages on a fearsome course, but tonight Basso was more keen to stress the consistency of his performance. In fact he gained time over at least some of his main rivals on every one of the seven days he considered as the keys to victory - the six mountain stages and the 50km time trial in Tuscany which was the cornerstone of Basso's Giro. Never over three weeks did he show signs of real weakness - something which even Armstrong only rarely managed during his reign at the Tour. Today's stage to Milan should have been no more than a moveable champagne reception for Basso, but it was almost soured by an ugly spat with Gilberto Simoni. The Saunier Duval veteran continues to maintain that Basso should have welcomed him to a stage win in Aprica on Saturday - and has now added further spice by alleging that Basso wanted payment in return for the win. Simoni's allegations are too serious to be dismissed out of hand, but it's not because they are fickle that the tifosi will side with Basso: as the new champion reminded us, this is not the first time that has Simoni has reacted badly to defeat. What Simoni does deserve is credit for his stubborn refusal to yield to Basso's supremacy. The three remaining members of the "famous five" so feverishly hyped before the race started - Di Luca, Cunego and Savoldelli - were all handicaped by poor form or illness, but also became demotivated as Basso pulled away. Cunego's form in the latter stages of the race confirms that talk of the Lampre rider being burned-out at 24 is premature. The 33-year-old Savoldelli may not have many chances to win a third Giro left but his fifth-place overall proves what can be achieved with a shrewd tactical brain when the legs are lacking zip. The insurmountable problem for all them, though, is that Ivan Basso really is on a different planet on this form. Whether Basso likes being called an extraterrestrial or not... While no-one could get close to the CSC team leader on the overall rankings, three riders did at least have the satisfaction of beating him in the minor classifications. Paolo Bettini's victory in the ciclamino (points jersey) competition was some consolation for only managing fourth in the bunch gallop, while Juan Manuel Garate and Paolo Savoldelli had respectively secured the green (mountains) and blue (combined) jerseys before the start of today's stage. Phonak were confirmed winners of the points competition by 7-36 over Lampre-Fondital - the Swiss team's first team classification win in a major tour.
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