Ivan: ‘I’m no extraterrestrial’

Despite his team manager's belief that anything can still happen, Ivan Basso seems happy to ride for

Despite his team manager’s belief that anything can still happen, Ivan Basso seems happy to ride for

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Anyone who pitched up at the CSC team’s rest day press conference hoping to hear Ivan Basso announce the imminent end of Lance Armstrong would have left the Park Inn hotel in Orange disappointed on Monday. The two-week transformation from Tour de France wannabe to would-be successor to Armstrong, Basso said, “hasn’t changed Ivan Basso”. That much was clear anyway. “I haven’t become an extraterrestrial,” and “don’t forget, Lance has won five Tours de France,” Basso was at pains to stress. They were exactly the words that many of those present didn’t want to hear. Not pessimistic, just realistic. Not appeased, just pleased with what he has accomplished so far to lie third on general classification, one minute 17 seconds behind Armstrong. Both alert to risks and open to opportunity. “Anything can happen in life, there is always a chance that I could beat Lance,” Basso repeated several times on Monday. “But I am not the kind of rider who will attack just to gain 10 or 15 seconds: If I go, it has to be for the knock-out punch. That’s how Lance won the Tour in 2003, with one attack [at Luz Ardiden – Ed.]. At Alpe d’Huez on Wednesday I think he wants to kill the Tour. To attack you need you need to have the power in your legs. It’s pointless me saying now, sitting here, that I will have that power. We’ll see at the time.” If this was the same Ivan Basso speaking who had impressed, if not necessarily entertained us, at the Tour since winning the white jersey in 2002, many things have changed about the 26-year-old Italian. His team and his team manager, for a start: from the no-nonsense regimens of Giancerlo Ferretti at Fassa Bortolo to the mind-bending techniques of perhaps pro cycling’s first ever ‘guru’, CSC manager Bjarne Riis. Of Ferretti, Basso reiterated yesterday that there “were no hard feelings”. ‘Ferron’ had even telephoned him, Basso said, to offer his congratulations after Saturday’s stage to Plateau de Beille. Riis explained yesterday that one of the keys to Basso’s success this year was his ability to switch off from cycling. “This winter I told him to find and really enjoy things away from cycling. In the past, he couldn’t live without his bike for more than a week,” said the great Dane. Technically Basso has improved his time trialling to the extent that, though he lost 10 minutes against the clock in individual time trials in 2003, Riis believes he can restrict his losses from Armstrong to around two minutes over 55 kilometres at Besanon on Saturday. Wind-tunnel testing in Massachusetts this spring, weekly training sessions on his time trial bike and a new focus and motivation have all played their part. “In the final time trial freshness counts a lot more than specialist ability,” Basso added yesterday. “I have always done a lot better in the second long time trial at the Tour than in the first.” In the mountains, Basso has taken inspiration from his friend and rival Armstrong. “My success now is the fruit of months of work on lots of different aspects of my riding,” the 1998 world U23 champion pointed out yesterday. “I am spinning the pedals 10 revolutions per minute faster than before. Now I use a 36-tooth chainring in all of the mountain stages. Even that took a lot of getting use to. “This is the best I have ever felt as a cyclist,” Basso continued. “I am not afraid, either. When you win for the first time in a long time, like I did at La Mongie on Friday, something clicks in your head. You are reassured, your confidence grows. The same happened with Davide Rebellin this spring: he won once at Amstel Gold, then twice more in a week at Flche Wallonne and Lige-Bastogne-Lige. As I said, I’ll give it a go.” And the final word to Riis, nemesis of Miguel Indurain’s shot at a sixth Tour win in 1996: “Lance is less solid, less strong than he was a few years ago. I think he’s vulnerable. If you ride for second, you finish second.” Now that’s more like fighting talk.