Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.
By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Yellow-jersey contender Ivan Basso is not new to the idea of hoping to win the Tour de France, and the Italian affirmed here Friday he is ready to give Lance Armstrong a run for his money.
Basso, who has already won the race’s white jersey for the best-placed rider age 25 years or under, was the only rider to really threaten Armstrong in the Pyrenees last year. The 28-year-old Italian won a stage at La Mongie ahead of Armstrong, who relegated the classy CSC rider to second place a day later.
Basso’s efforts left him with a respectable third-place finish on the Champs Elysées last year, though he could have been the runner-up instead of Germany’s Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile), who performed better in the penultimate stage time trial.
This year, Basso has improved his time-trialing, and he showed at the recent Giro d’Italia – where his bid for overall victory came unstuck because of a stomach bug – that he still has what it takes to do well at altitude.
As a result, his team boss at CSC, former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, expects his Italian protege to be one of the protagonists of the race.
“Ivan is ready for the Tour as well as he was ready for the Tour of Italy,” said Riis, who won the Tour in 1996. “But it won’t be easy. Three weeks (of racing) will decide who is strongest. For the last six years it has been one man (Armstrong), and he will be the favorite again.”
For Riis, the sight of former Telekom teammate Jan Ullrich struggling at the recent Tour of Switzerland was perhaps an omen. Ullrich finished third overall in the race but was pushed to his limits on the final stage as a number of attacks on the decisive climb ultimately left Spaniard Aitor Gonzalez with the stage and overall victory.
Riis even believes Ullrich, who suffered his first mishap of the Tour de France here Friday when he crashed while training for Saturday’s 19km time trial, will be usurped by his crafty Kazakh teammate Alexandre Vinokourov.
“Ullrich will probably be strong, but how much I don’t know,” added the Dane. “After what I saw of him in the Tour of Switzerland I don’t think he’ll be that dangerous in the mountains. In fact I think that Vinokourov will be more dangerous than him on the climbs.”
Basso, meanwhile, is taking things in stride. After all, he could afford to be after being described by Armstrong on Thursday as a “classy” rider. Nevertheless, he is not one to let compliments go to his head – and he is wise enough to know that he will have to forget his friendship with Armstrong and attack in the mountains if he is to win.
“I’ve prepared for the Tour the best way possible,” he said when asked about his specific training for the race apart from the time trials. “But to attack you need good legs in the mountains. In saying that, I’m not doing this race to finish second. But tomorrow I’ll be going out to win also. I don’t know by how much, but I know I’m a lot faster than last year.”
Basso, Ullrich and Armstrong are all favorites to pull on the yellow jersey after Saturday’s time trial, which despite being straight will be a complicated affair due to the nasty headwind.
And Riis knows there are only two ways to beat Armstrong – in the time trials or in the mountains.
“It would be nice to beat Lance Armstrong in the time trials – that way we wouldn’t have to attack in the mountains,” he said. “For me there are no key stages. You never know when the key stage will be, but when it presents itself you have to make sure you’re there to take your chances.”