February 23, 2009 (California) — We had several conversations and communications with Italy’s Ivan Basso (Liquigas) at the Tour of California before his ill-fated pre-time trial accident in Solvang. Basso is making a comeback following his 2-yr suspension after his involvement with OperaciÃ³n Puerto admitting that he considered using banned substances. His suspension ended on October 24, 2008 – here are some of the topics we covered.
The initial rumor among your peers at the Tour of California was that you were ready. Although you’re doing well, you’re not in the form we were anticipating. What was your goal here and why did Liquigas come?
Ivan Basso: Yes, we don’t have our best team here but that was due to injuries and schedules. I am not “road tested” yet to feel the sensations of the climbs and weather, but I am beginning to return to a better form. I’m very happy with our team’s performances at the Tour and hope to have a good time trial (he crashed the morning of the TT in Sovlang – ed).
Does this year’s ATOC remind you of the Giro with the tough weather conditions?
IB: Yes and no – the California hills are very alike to Italy with out the ancient walled cities on top of them, and the roads are better here. The rain and wind and snow remind me of the Giro, but still this tour is so well organized and Amgen really treats us well – it’s first class talent and I like to come here to race.
How do you best deal with the stress and cope with making a comeback? Yoga? Meditation ? Family?
IB: Yoga and meditation? Well yes, this is California, so it’s probably normal to do that, and I do enjoy to meditate, but probably not the same way. My family keeps me focused, it’s my core, my relaxation.
Two years ago you competed here with the Disco team and Johann Bruynel. How different is it to be training with a national team like Liquigas compared to Discovery Channel or the former CSC under Bjarne Riis?
IB: Every team has the same goals but each one approaches them differently, and that depends on the talent they have. With Johann it was very well organized, we’d talk about where and how I could improve and he’d help me achieve these goals on a very personal level, very positive and supportive of my approach as well. With Bjarne he was papa bear, respected, smart, and a compassionate person, yet very demanding, and I liked that. It’s fun to be on Liquigas, to once again be riding on an Italian team with so much depth and understanding of who we are and how we function as Italians. This can’t be underestimated, even though basically we are all humans and share a lot of common habits and perspective – sono molto contento!
You told me back then that this race is a perfect way to prepare yourself for the Grand Tours without peaking too fast. Does this mean that many of the riders aren’t here to win and the end result isn’t very important to you personally?
IB: I take this tour personally and very seriously although it might not seem so (laughing). I did well this year and am happy with the results so far.
After your almost two-year suspension do you feel you’re a wiser person? You’re still young enough to come back and beat the best – has this soul searching been a blessing in disguise or a waste of time?
IB: It has really been a time of reflection for me personally and for my family life, so I feel the time I had was spent well with them and for me to grasp the larger picture of what this sport means to me and how much I want to be a part of it. On the good side I am hoping that trust between myself and the fans is growing well, and it seems to be true. It feels like there was a storm that washed away my pride and left it to be rebuilt better. I had to clean myself of that mess, to be able to admit my mistake, look to what I can do, and be here now and really prepare for the future.
You’ll be going mano a mano, or better put, pedal to pedal with Lance at the Giro. What’s the key to you beating him in Italy when that is his main goal for the year?
IB: The key to beating Lance is for Lance to have a bad day, and for me to have a good day on the bike – that’s really what I can hope for. For the race to unfold and to feel really good and hope he is not on the same level that day, and of course other days on the Tour.
Are you on good speaking terms with Astana and were you offered to re-join Johan’s team – and if you were would you accept?
IB: I still talk with both of them and hope we continue to be close. I have only good things to say about how I have been treated, but I am secure on Liquigas.
Do you think you’re considered a favorite for the Tour or Giro when you’ve been out for two years?
IB: I am happy that I am not considered the big favorite because it’s a lot of pressure and I’d prefer to be just one of the favorites and sneak up for a win or two (smiles).
You are going to the wind tunnel down south after the ATOC, what do you expect to find ?
IB: First to improve my positions on the bike to streamline my times during time trials. It was a big improvement for me and as you can see now, there is even more competition than before and I have to find the best form on the bike for my body while being comfortable. I need to improve my time trial skills to compete at a higher level, and this is a very good way to be ready for the spring races.
Will you train with any Americans riders while there, like Floyd Landis ?
IB: I don’t think so as I may not have time. I will be going through several tests and that is my main reason for going.
All the best this season and thanks for spending time with us.
IB: Thank you.