Contador calls Basso ‘great champion,’ Tour contender

Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador will count Ivan Basso among his biggest challengers this year after the Italian's impressive victory in the Giro d'Italia.

Agence France Presse

Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador will count Ivan Basso among his biggest challengers this year after the Italian’s impressive victory in the Giro d’Italia.

Basso finally exorcised the ghosts of a career-threatening doping ban last month when he captured his second pink jersey from the Giro to put himself back among cycling’s stage racing elite.

The Italian then admitted, however, that his redemption would not be fully complete until he competes at the Tour de France, from which he was ejected before the start in 2006 due to suspected doping.

Although Basso’s exertions in what was a demanding three-week Giro could hinder his hopes of really challenging in the Tour, Contador said he would not rule the Italian out.

And the Spaniard, who made history in 2008 when he added the Giro and Vuelta a España titles to his 2007 Tour de France yellow jersey, hinted he was considering attempting the rare double of the Giro/Tour in 2011.

“For me Basso is a great champion who has real qualities as a cyclist — whether he’d won the Giro or not,” the Spaniard said on Saturday a day ahead of the first stage of the Dauphiné Libéré stage race.

“I certainly won’t be ruling him out of being among my big challengers this year.”

Asked if he would start next year’s Italian epic, Contador — who won the race in 2008 despite having to cut short his holidays at the last minute after an SOS call by his team — gave a wry smile which suggested it is in his plans, if the course is to his liking.

“There’s a chance I’ll start the Giro in 2011, it’s a beautiful race. I liked it in 2008, it really felt like home to me,” he said. “But right now I can’t confirm whether I’ll start.”

Another of Contador’s big rivals at the Tour this year will be seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who finished third last year at more than five minutes behind the Spaniard as Andy Schleck took a deserved runner-up spot.

Armstrong, who only returned to the sport last year following a three-year hiatus, has endured several mishaps this season — principally a crash in the Tour of California.

Only days after Armstrong faced down damaging allegations of doping from former teammate Floyd Landis, his team manager at RadioShack, Johan Bruyneel, admitted the 38-year-old Texan was struggling for form.

However, Contador believes Armstrong, who is honing his own race form at the Tour of Luxembourg, will be ready when it comes to the race in July.

“I’ve been following the progress of all my rivals, but come the Tour de France I’m sure Lance will be ready,” said Contador.

“He has a lot of experience, and above all he knows himself very well and how to find the kind of condition that is needed to be competitive at the Tour.”