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Q&A: Ivan Basso still aspires to be at the top

  • By Chris Case
  • Published Aug. 12, 2014
  • Updated Aug. 12, 2014 at 6:15 PM EDT
Ivan Basso got in the breakaway on stage 4 of the Tour of Utah, but he struggled to find his high-altitude form during the week-long race. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

PARK CITY, Utah (VN) — Ivan Basso wasn’t in the hotel lobby at 10 a.m. to meet me as we had arranged. He wasn’t in the hotel parking lot at the team bus, either; but the mechanic thought that his room might be on the second floor.

I headed upstairs, happy to find another Cannondale teammate riding his bicycle through the dimly lit hallway of this Park City hotel. Do you know where Ivan is staying? I asked.

There was a moment of hesitation, and then he was certain it was room 209. When Basso opened the door, he was in his underwear, talking in Italian on his mobile phone, standing at the doorway looking confused.

“Hi Ivan, we were supposed to meet and chat in the lobby,” I said.

“Ah, si, si, come in, we will do it here,” he said, as he took a seat on the bed and patted the sheets for me to sit next to him.

For the next 15 minutes, Basso, with his long, two-tone legs crossed and his t-shirt pulled down over his lap, and I talked about the Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Challenge, where he’s been these past few years, where he wants to go, and the likelihood that he would retire to his parents’ blueberry farm.

VeloNews: Did you perform the way you wanted to in the Tour of Utah? (He finished 42nd overall, 58:59 behind winner Tom Danielson — Ed.)
Ivan Basso: I know it is difficult, because I arrive here in the difficult part of the season. I arrive here to try to do my best, to get the good condition. When you arrive here you have three things: the jet lag, the altitude, and the third thing is most important — you need to be ready to make good, hard efforts at 3,000 meters [9,842 feet]. That is what I do this week; I expect that, in my condition, I can’t have a race with the top riders, but I have to try to go in the break like I did [on stage 4]. I’m pretty sure that the work for this week is important for [the USA Pro Challenge].

VN: What is the goal in Colorado?
IB: I think it [has been] too long a time to not be in the top positions, so it is better to go step by step. Of course, my ambition is always high, but it is difficult to say that I will [stay with the best riders] when you don’t have any good results in the last [several] months. I want to try to stay with the top riders, of course.

VN: Having won the Giro d’Italia twice, having stood on the podium at the Tour de France, are you frustrated that you’re no longer racing at that level?
IB: No, because sometimes I invest all of my energy … the last part of the last season, Tour of Beijing, Lombardia, I do well (He finished ninth overall in Beijing, and 11th at Il Lombardia — Ed.). The problem is I invest all of my energy in the Giro, and the Giro didn’t go well, and it is not easy to restart. But I’m pretty confident that from Colorado to the end of October, [I will] close very well.

VN: In early August, La Gazzetta reported that you were headed to Tinkoff-Saxo for 2015. Can you confirm that you will be moving to Tinkoff-Saxo for next season?
IB: That is not the point [I’m focused on]. In my head, now, we have to do well here. For me, the only thing that is important is to do good at the race in front of me. The rest, we have time to think. We still have time to decide. I don’t want to decide what we do in the future until I feel okay [with it]. Now I’m focused on Cannondale and doing well for Cannondale.

VN: You have said that you want to build your reputation for having had a long career.
IB: When you ride many, many years, you have to give to the young riders something. You have to show them [by example]; they have to follow you.

VN: Is that a satisfying place to be at this point in your career?
IB: Well, it’s one of the pleasures. But I do want to stay in with the top riders until I can’t. [It isn’t the same] for everybody. Some at 34 years old, they stop. Some riders at 37 or 41, like Horner, they are okay. But it depends; not everybody is the same. The most important thing is to do your best, and if you do your best, the bike gives you back what you give to her.

VN: Are you under more pressure now to perform?
IB: No, because I do 100 percent. The people, the team, the fans, everybody knows that I do my best. Everybody sees how I train for the Giro. If I finish 15th [as I did in 2014], of course, that’s not good, but if you do 100 percent, that is life. But, I think the most important [thing] is to be happy about what you do. I go ride, I’m happy, and I try to do my best like I did [on stage 4]. It’s nothing, I know, but I was in the break for 120K, so you want to do something. Yesterday [stage 6], I want to stay with the top group, but I have to drop [off the pace]. I have a pain [in my chest]; I almost die! I feel like I will crash off the bike. You have to take off the gas, go easy, and try again later. In my head, I’m already in Colorado. I think, ‘I’ve [spent] three weeks here in Utah: jet lag is okay, altitude is okay, now the third point is okay, to go full-gas at altitude.’ If you adapt at altitude and you never go full-gas, and it’s the first time, [he makes a choking gesture]. If you don’t do efforts, high power at altitude, the first time you go full-gas, you are f—ked. It is incredible. You have on the climb a pulse of 170-175 [bpm]; when you go down it is the same, it doesn’t go down.

VN: Your parents own a blueberry farm. Is that something you hope to go into when you retire?
IB: We’ll see. I give all of my life to the bike. I’ve never told any journalist this but, when I retire, I want to be … (Basso struggled to find the right word, but later it was revealed he wanted to be a mentor and manager of young talent).

I started [cycling] when I was very young. I want to study to be important in one team in the future. Because, I think, sometimes the big difference in a riders’ results comes from the small things. I rode for many years on the same team. What is important, I have a lot of information in my head, I feel like I have a good feeling for the young rider. So, maybe in the future, blueberry farmer. But my idea, now, is to study to give all of my experience to [young riders]. Because I’m not a ‘hors-categorie’ rider; I build my career with my head, so I’m sure I can do this. When you are a cyclist, you don’t get a contract or money because you are nice or you are friendly. You get this because you are working well. So what I want to do is to start again like a neo-pro in the management role.

But that is a long [time from now], because I want to ride more, with different goals, but I still want to ride well for a few more years. But after that I want to start a new career like a neo-pro; I think I’d be good [at] that; I know I could do something nice for one team, but it’s not important what I say, it’s important that I show it. Start again from the low level, and go up.

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Chris Case

Chris Case

In the fluorescent light of a neuroscience laboratory, Chris Case decided the study of photography, film, and journalism might be better suited to his creative passions. In graduate school, he rediscovered the bike, and quickly became enamored with the sport in all its forms — the history, culture, and stories that make it rich, and the places that it took him. He joined Velo magazine as managing editor in 2012 after five years as editor and designer of Trail and Timberline magazine.

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