LUZ-ARDIDEN, France (VN) – Ivan Basso confirmed his place among the overall favorites Thursday on the first mountaintop finish of the 2011 Tour de France, at Luz-Ardiden. But the Liquigas-Cannondale leader said he’s not letting his guard down, especially since just one major attack from Alberto Contador could turn the GC on its head.
“I am very content. It was an important first test for me today, especially after my crash on Mount Etna,” said Basso. “Today was only the Tour’s antipasto; we have two more stages in the Pyrenées and then the Alps.”
Basso’s Tour preparation was interrupted in May by a hard crash in training after he missed his title defense at the Giro d’Italia because of an early season illness and a decision to focus on the big event in July. Basso required stitches to close a laceration on his face and missed a number of training days. He said before the Tour began that he hoped to make up his missed preparation over the first two weeks of the race.
Basso showed that his preparation wasn’t lacking, for the first day in the mountains anyway, when the two-time Giro winner stayed confidently parked among the first five wheels of what eventually shrank to a six-rider group of favorites on the hors categorie Col du Tourmalet and Luz-Ardiden climbs. While Contador at times appeared in trouble, moving backward on the climbs’ steepest pitches, Basso did not waiver. Paced by teammate Sylvester Szmyd, Basso was loose on the lower ramps of the finish climb.
“Szmyd rode great today to help pace me over the Tourmalet and keep me in the group until the final part of the stage,” he said.
When Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) jumped for the third spot on the finish climb, freeing himself in pursuit of eventual stage winner Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Basso worked with BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans to limit their losses.
Contador clung to the wheel in the final switchbacks, but came unhitched in the final kilometer, eventually ceding 13 seconds, his third time loss of the week. Contador will enter stage 13 trailing overall leader Thomas Voeckler by four minutes and Basso, who sits fifth, by 44 seconds.
“It’s been a hard start to the Tour for Contador, many crashes and problems,” said Basso. “However, I am not going to let my guard down, he’s a huge talent. Remember, only one of his attacks could turn this Tour around.”
Basso lost nearly a minute in a disastrous stage 2 team time trial and gave up a handful of seconds in the hilltop Breton finishes in the first week.
With nine riders within five minutes of Voeckler’s lead (but just five at under 3:30) headed into the second high mountain stage, Basso said the race is still far from decided, particularly with an especially tough run through the Alps next week.
“This Tour is still very open,” he said. “I have to stay concentrated and remain calm. There is still a lot of racing in this Tour.”