HERNING, Denmark (VN) — Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) started his run for a third Giro d’Italia title today, placing 35th at 39 seconds behind Taylor Phinney in the opening time trial. But more importantly, he was only 10 seconds back on fellow GC contender Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) and three seconds behind Roman Kreuziger (Astana).
“I just needed to defend myself today,” Basso said at the finish line. “To start well is good, but I already have to think about tomorrow and the next days.”
The 34-year-old Italian starts this Giro slightly behind in preparation. He crashed in Paris-Nice and abandoned with sore ribs days later. In the Volta a Catalunya, he crashed and banged his knee. His bad luck only seemed to truly end when he narrowly avoided a stray dog in the Giro del Trentino time trial.
That difficult run-up is similar to last year’s Tour de France, where he crashed while training on Mount Etna. He flew, landed on his right side, suffered cuts and bruises and later received 15 stitches to his brow. It lost him 10 days of training and made him even more nervous on descents.
Given the training setbacks this year, the experts doubt if Basso can find the strength to win as he did in 2006 and 2010.
“I like to think that the strong riders have confidence in themselves and in their teams, and not have to think about what they [the experts] say,” Basso told VeloNews. “It’s important that they talk; if they’re not talking then that’s not good.”
In 2006, Basso destroyed the field and finished with a significant gap of 9’18” minutes over José Enrique Gutiérrez. Both riders were linked to Operación Puerto later that year. He returned from a doping suspension and won the race a second time two years ago. That race was more closely fought. He lost over 10 minutes mid-way but and climbed back into contention starting with the Monte Zoncolan leg.
“You can’t compare it to six years ago or even in 2010, that was two years ago,” he explained. “The thing is, your body changes; it doesn’t remain the same. Maybe you have more resistance and a little slower, but the most important thing is to keep a fresh head. I like to think I’m older and wiser, like an Italian wine that gets better with age!”
Basso’s best place this season is 14th in the Giro del Trentino stage to Passo Pordoi. In comparison, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) placed seventh overall in Tirreno-Adriatico and Kreuziger was third in the same race.
Ahead of Trentino and the Tour de Romandie, Basso trained at altitude in Tenerife. In 17 days on the island, he climbed 66,000 vertical meters or 216,000 feet.
“I’ve arrived here in a strange situation. I trust my training at altitude will pay off in three weeks time,” he said. The mountain stage to the Passo Stelvio on May 26 closes out the Giro’s mountain run this year – that’s the area where his mom was raised and where he learned how to climb.
“Yeah, to win that stage or to do well would secure the race win,” Basso added. “You have to have that same smile and that same energy that you had when you were a little boy.”