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CSC's Ivan Basso became the latest big name rider to take a morale-boosting win in one of their opening outings of the season when he proved a convincing winner of this weekend's Criterium International. The Italian finished 27 seconds ahead of Erik Dekker (Rabobank) to succeed team-mate Bobby Julich as the winner of this mini-Tour, which features a rolling first stage, a hilly stage and summit finish and a closing time trial.
Basso won the hilly stage on Sunday morning, outpacing Alexandre Botcharov (Crdit Agricole) and Juan Carlos Dominguez (Unibet.com) in Montherme. This success came on the back of a first stage second place when he was outsprinted by Dekker, and second place in the closing time trial behind Alberto Martinez, who gave the French Agritubel team their first win of the season.
"I'm equally surprised and happy. It means a great deal to me to win here in France, where I've always felt welcome," said Basso. "I didn't actually come here to win and wasn't banking on my form being good enough for a top result, but after the work the team did this morning, I found myself in a position where it was possible.
"I'm very pleased with my time trial today and it gives me a good feeling in relation to the big stage races. Up until now everything has been perfect this year. I feel more ready and I also feel that the work, I'm doing together with [CSC team manager] Bjarne [Riis] and the team is the absolute right way for me to achieve my goals this year. This victory is an important step on the way."
After recent victories by a number of Basso's likely Giro d'Italia and Tour de France rivals including Damiano Cunego, Floyd Landis and Alexandre Vinokourov, Riis was pleased to see his team leader quickly find his stride this season. "Ivan has got a big result under his belt now and this goes to show he's an all-round rider," said Riis.
"It was a good win for the team and we defended our victory from the previous years in a brilliant way. Ivan has impressed in all three stages and this after a week where he has really worked hard with his training at home. The race has proved a good test, and no one can disagree with the fact that he passed with flying colours. He is highly motivated to win the Giro and he'll be even stronger then."
Final overall standings
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 7.17.03
2 Erik Dekker (Hol) Rabobank 0.27
3 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Milram 1.08
4 Jos Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 1.22
5 Ronny Scholz (Ger) Gerolsteiner 1.31
6 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Barloworld 1.32
7 Constantino Zaballa (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 1.53
8 Pieter Weening (Hol) Rabobank 1.58
9 Juan Carlos Dominguez (Spa) Unibet.com 2.04
10 Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Crdit Agricole 2.19
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