Ivan Basso (Liquigas) says returning to the Tour de France for the first time since 2005 makes him an outsider for victory and insists the favorite will be Alberto Contador.
Hot off winning the Giro d’Italia, Basso will start his first Tour since finishing second to Lance Armstrong in 2005. He was prevented from starting the 2006 Tour after he was linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal and he later served a two-year ban.
“I will start with motivation, hungry for victory, with a team similar to what we had at the Giro,” he told the Italian daily La Stampa. “(Contador) is the best. He’s won all the stage races that count: the Giro, the Vuelta and the Tour. He’s super strong in the climbs, strong in the time trials. A champion like him is born every 50 years, but nobody is unbeatable.”
The two-time Giro champ says he has some unfinished business with the Tour, where he was heralded as the next great Italian candidate for overall victory before getting caught up in the Puerto web.
Basso, 32, says he’s put the Puerto scandal behind him and his convincing Giro win in May helped bring closure to what he said was the “most difficult moment of my life.”
“I feel the Tour here, inside of me, right next to my heart. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s not, because I was born as a rider in the Tour,” Basso said. “I still want to win the Tour. With the maglia rosa in Verona, I closed a chapter on my life and I’ve put behind my two years of solitude, the most difficult moment of my life. But I came back to be on top again, and I’ve put a period at the end of this story and now I’m beginning to write a new one.”
That story could become very compelling if he comes close to becoming the first rider since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win the Giro and Tour in the same year.
Basso will headline the Liquigas Tour squad with Roman Kreuziger, who will be looking to improve on his top-10 finish last year. Sylvester Szmyd and Francesco Bellotti will provide support in the mountains while the captains will have plenty of support in the flats and transition stages from the likes of Manuel Quinziato and Brian Vanborg, who will be making his Tour debut.
Third-place Giro man Vincenzo Nibali is skipping the Tour this year; he will race the Vuelta instead to prepare for the worlds. Also gone is last year’s King of the Mountains and stage-winner Franco Pellizotti, who was sidelined with irregularities in his biological passport.
Liquigas for Tour de France: Ivan Basso (ITA); Roman Kreuziger (CZE); Sylwester Szmyd (POL); Franco Bellotti (ITA); Kristjan Koren (SLO); Aliaksandr Kuchynski (BLR); Daniel Oss (ITA); Manuel Quinziato (ITA); Brian Vandborg (DEN).