Now that Ivan Basso has returned from his doping-ban purgatory following his hard-fought victory in the Giro d’Italia in May, he has some unfinished business with the Tour de France.
Basso, who turns 33 later this month, knows that he probably has one more good shot at trying to win the Tour. And with a climber-friendly route on tap for 2011, the Italian knows that he will have a unique opportunity come July.
“I think it’s a beautiful Tour route, one that could be perfect for my abilities,” Basso said. “The stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps equally challenging, and with fewer time trials, that only makes it better for me.”
After winning the Giro this year in an emotional return to the top, he will be hard-pressed to decide between defending his Giro crown on what will be an equally spectacular Giro course that features no fewer than seven mountain-top finishes, or focusing solely on preparing for a run for the yellow jersey in the Tour.
That might mean skipping the Giro and making the Tour his season-long focus, with an option to race the Vuelta later in the season. Basso said his heart might compel him to come back for one last push for the Tour.
“It is clear that I have an affection for the Tour because it is the race that has launched me into the top levels of cycling. But the Giro is the race I have won and it also gave the chance to make a comeback in the second part of my career, so for me it is very difficult to chose,” he said.
The presence of Vincenzo Nibali, who rode to third in support of Basso in May and then won the Vuelta a Espana in September, could make that decision easier.
Nibali could get tapped to lead the team for the Giro, taking the pressure off Basso so he can ramp up for the Tour. Liquigas brass have suggested that’s a real possibility, though no final decision has been made.
“I think there are two important aspects. One is what I desire and also the desires and dreams of Vincenzo and also the team, what our directors decide,” Basso continued. “So it will be necessary that we all look at each other in the eyes, since there is a very good relationship, the new Liquigas of the coming year has decided to invest a lot (in Nibali) so it is necessary to decide with loyalty what is best for me, for him (Vincezo), and for the team.”
Basso admited he craves a return to the Tour and the same success he did before his ban for his involvement with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, the key figure in Operación Puerto. Basso was third in 2004 and second in 2005, with Lance Armstrong pegging him as the man most likely to succeed him as Tour champion. Of course, Basso and several other contenders were ejected from the Tour before it even began in 2006 and the race was eventually won by Óscar Pereiro, but only after that year’s apparent winner lost his title to a doping positive. Basso insisted his dalliance with doping — or, as he continues to insist, the intent to dope — is far behind him and that he can return to the Tour riding clean.
His return to the Tour this year stuttered, perhaps from the hard effort that came with winning the Giro, and he finished a distant 32nd.
As a result, Basso said he has some unfinished business with the Tour.
“It’s a dream of any rider to wear the yellow jersey,” he concluded. “Maybe this year’s route is a good one for me. I would like to go back to the Tour in optimum condition to try to win it all. We will see.”
Editor’s Note: Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood’s covered every Tour since 1996 and has been VeloNews’ European correspondent since 2002. He lives in Leon, Spain, when he’s not chasing bike races.