Ivan Basso is confident that he can go two better than last year’s third place, and CSC boss Bjarne
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While only Tom Boonen, Michael Rogers and Patrik Sinkewitz turned up for Quick Step’s pre-race press conference, and the T-Mobile and Discovery Channel press conferences were even less well attended with only those teams’ star riders – Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong respectively – present, CSC’s was quite different.
The Danish squad showed their expected strength-in-depth by wheeling out no fewer than six of their nine-man squad: Ivan Basso, Jens Voigt, Bobby Julich, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, David Zabriskie and Carlos Sastre, with team manager Bjarne Riis dominating proceedings, holding court in the middle of his riders.
For once at these press conferences, there was a jovial atmosphere, with Zabriskie his normal self, keeping the assembled journalists entertained with his answer to what he thought was different about CSC compared to when he was with US Postal last season. “Ummmm… The sponsors are different,” he said with a grin.
Voigt, too, caused a laugh, saying that he hoped Riis would unleash him from his duties of riding for Basso to go on one of his trademark attacks at some point in the race, but admitted that “the ideal scenario at this race would be us riding into Paris with Basso in yellow on our wheels”.
But the serious stuff involved Basso and Riis, with the latter quick to answer a couple of questions on the Italian’s behalf, whose English nevertheless has improved dramatically since joining the team.
“I think Ivan is as ready for the Tour as he was for the Giro. But we will soon see who is the strongest,” Riis said, when asked who he thought the strongest rider would be going into the race, given the choice of Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Alexandre Vinokourov and Basso. “For the last six years it has just been one man. We have to be strong to beat him. I know Ivan will be strong, and probably Ullrich, but I don’t know.”
Riis then quickly elaborated, continuing: “From what I saw of Ullrich at the Tour of Switzerland, I’m not sure he’ll be a real danger in the mountains. Vinokourov will be more dangerous – he’ll be the main danger from T-Mobile. But we also have to keep an eye on any outsiders.”
Basso, for his part, was confident that he was ready to give this year’s race his best shot after falling out of contention in the Giro d’Italia suffering from a stomach bug, and hopes that he can put on a more attacking display than he has done previously at the Tour.
“I’ve prepared in the best possible way,” the 27 year old said. “To attack you need good legs, so I hope that I arrive in the mountains with good form. I’m not here to come second, and will be trying to win, but you need the legs.”
Basso has worked hard to improve his time trialling in the past 12 months after losing his second place overall behind Armstrong to Andreas Kloeden in the 2004 Tour’s final time trial. That ability will be put to the test for the first time on Saturday’s 19km first stage.
“I will lose less time to Armstrong and Ullrich in the time trials this year than before,” Basso affirmed. “I will do my best and am sure that I am faster compared to last year, but I don’t know yet by how much.”
Asked what could be the key stage at this year’s race, Riis replied: “Tomorrow [Saturday]. But every day will be important. You never know when a key stage is coming.”
The Dane, winner of the 1996 Tour de France, made it clear that the team’s ambitions are to take Basso to Paris in yellow – that Saturday’s opening time trial will be a key stage, but not important in the long run.
“I don’t expect the yellow jersey tomorrow,” he said.