Thursday, June 3, 2010

Basso Looks Ahead to Tour de France

Recently-crowned Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso has promised to compete with the few real contenders for cycling's prestigious yellow jersey after pledging to race the Tour de France in July. Basso, who finished runner-up to seven-time champion Lance Armstrong in 2005, secured his second pink jersey from the Giro d'Italia on Sunday only two years after completing a doping ban.

The Italian has since been advised to bask in that win, achieved after a solid campaign by his Liquigas team throughout three weeks of thrilling racing. Meanwhile, Italian cycling legend Felice Gimondi, the 1965 yellow jersey champion known for his epic rivalry with Eddy Merckx, doubts Basso's ability to compete with a tougher field at the Tour.

"He should rest up, and focus instead on coming back stronger to the Tour next year," said Gimondi. "At the Tour the competition will be a whole different level altogether, riders who will be far stronger than the opposition he faced at the Giro."

Basso, however, believes he can be a main protagonist come July. When the 'Operation Puerto' drugs scandal erupted in May 2006, he, from dozens of cyclists and a reported 200 athletes in total, was one of the first casualties. All set to succeed the recently retired Armstrong, the Italian was instead thrown off the race before a pedal had been turned in anger. After taking a significant step back to redemption on Sunday, Basso - who has claimed he is racing 100 percent clean - is hoping a return to his beloved Tour will finally bury the sorry memories of his expulsion in 2006.

"I just have to race the Tour," he said. "That's where my career was shattered (in 2006), and it's there that it will really start again."

"I haven't even looked at the race route, but that's the first thing I will do when I get home on Monday."

Basso said he will rest and then reconnoiter key mountain stages on the race in the coming weeks, during which his rivals will be honing their own preparations. Although Armstrong, Andy Schleck, Basso, Cadel Evans and Britain's Bradley Wiggins will all be expected to challenge for the yellow jersey, Astana's Alberto Contador will be the name on everyone's lips when the Tour begins in the Dutch port of Rotterdam on July 3.

Basso admits Contador, a Tour champion in 2007 who also won the Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain in 2008, is a notch above everyone else.

"Contador is the number one, ahead of everyone else," added the Italian. "Behind him there's a bunch of outsiders such as (Cadel) Evans, Schleck, Armstrong and myself."

But the Italian insists he won't be competing just to make up the numbers.

"Winning this pink jersey has given me back my confidence, and my ambition. I'll go to the Tour with humility, but, with a solid team behind me, with belief that I can compete with the best."


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