Young Italians shine at La Mongie

Ivan Basso's stage win at La Mongie capped a fine day for the Italians on the route du Tour.

Ivan Basso's stage win at La Mongie capped a fine day for the Italians on the route du Tour.
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Italian cycling was enjoying double celebration tonight, as Ivan Basso chose the biggest stage in cycling to notch his first victory since June 2001, and the 25-year-old Michele Scarponi continued his impressive Tour de France dbut with an eighth place finish at La Mongie. Basso's breakthrough win elevated him to sixth on general classification 12 stages into the 2004 Grande Boucle. More importantly, it has installed the 26-year-old Italian as arguably the clearest and most present danger to Lance Armstrong's hopes of a sixth Tour de France crown. "Although I have lacked a victory, I have been up there with the best for a long time now," the 2002 Tour white jersey winner commented. "The team never stopped believing in me. it never stopped protecting me in the first week. Today is a great day, but the real Tour has only just begun, so we mustn't get carried away." Asked whether he is now ready to assume the mantle of Armstrong's nemesis, Basso was cautious. He would concede only that "it was important to have put some distance between myself and the other contenders at the finish tonight. "When Lance attacked the speed wasn't really high," the Italian continued. "US Postal had stopped working 5km from the finish. From my point of view it was important to have Carlos Sastre at the front as well. Tonight I would like to pay tribute to Bjarne Riis, my team manager, a fantastic person. He never puts any pressure on me: he just tells me to stay calm. Our team spent one month working for this objective. We trained really hard in France before the Dauphin Libr and then near Bjarne's house in Tuscany." Scarponi, Basso's compatriot, is single-handedly salvaging the Tour for a Mario Cipollini-less Domina Vacanze team. Amongst the last to bow to Basso and Armstrong, Scarponi lost just over a minute tonight and has moved up to 18th position overall. On the young rider classification Scarponi is now third behind only Thomas Voeckler and Sandy Casar. "This was my first summit finish in my first Tour de France: I gave it all I had," Scarponi said in La Mongie this evening. "It was hard, but I am beginning to enjoy myself. Tomorrow I could pull out a surprise at Plateau de Beille. The Tour is still long, but I'm determined to leave my mark." Scarponi rounded off by congratulating Basso on "a brilliant victory". The two Italians could be exchanging favours, and not just compliments, over the days and mountains to come.
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