WESTLAKE VILLAGE, California (VN) — After 15 minutes of doping questions, Ivan Basso finally smiles. His eyebrows fall from their arches.
All it took, turns out, was a question about the bike. A talk about what it’s given him. Because, let’s face it, doping ban or not, the Italian can ride a bike, and his longevity in the world’s toughest sport is admirable. He’s the top Italian of his generation, twice a winner of the Giro d’Italia and once the top finisher in the Tour de France, thanks to Lance Armstrong’s redaction.
Basso is a gentleman athlete, for hours taking questions gracefully from journalists, one by one, in a California hotel room. Asked what the bike has given him in his life, he paused.
“The bike? A lot,” he said. “And I think the bike — it’s sacrifice. It’s … costanza [Italian for steadiness, or constancy]. Your head like a stone. Discipline. Suffering. Suffering.”
Basso said he had plenty to think about, and plenty of suffering, while serving his doping ban during 2006-08.
“But when you’re suffering, and you go like, shit, in front of the whole world, you open your eyes and you clean yourself. And you feel a better man later,” he said.
Basso is 35 now, and is admittedly in the class behind Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. But he’s aiming for another high finish at the Giro, preparing methodically but enjoying his off-season. Asked how he stays fresh after years on the bike, Basso said it was easy.
“It’s really simple. You have to take a rest,” he said. “My off-season, it’s important to keep the energy. For me, more time is possible with the family, and more rest is possible for your head, your legs, your everything. Try to not use too much the phone.
“You have to enjoy life. Because if you are enjoying life, you can enjoy legs. You can go faster.”
Asked if he ever raced or rode with anger, Basso said no.
“If you are angry for something, or if you are sportive angry — it’s different,” he said. “When I have to be angry for a win, I’m angry, too. But most of the rides, to do good, you have to be [calm] inside. Not stressful.”
Basso, it seems, has relaxed a bit. The pressure has eased, and his Cannondale team is loaded with youthful talent, from Peter Sagan to Moreno Moser. After all the miles, the races, the suspension, he still has a deep love for the bike.
“One of the better feelings you can get in one day, for me? It’s [to] take my bike in the road, with no cars, nothing, and you go bike and you feel the rumors in the wheel of the chain, of the wind. Yeah. That. And sometimes the best decision, with good results for my life, I get on my bike.”