Italy, Tuesday, May 23, 2006
It was a welcome day for the team yesterday that the three sprinters' teams were willing to do all the work in the stage. That allowed us to sit a little bit quiet in the bunch. It was still a long day yesterday, especially on the back of the couple of big mountain days. We did see that everyone had recuperated well though.
There's not a hell of a lot to say about today: it was pretty cut and dried. We were lucky with the weather. It stayed dry until just after the finish, then there was a lot of wind and rain, and it got really nasty.
It was calm at the beginning, and I think everyone was a bit daunted by the coming stages. I think it was 40 km before the first attack went, then the boys got on the front and started riding a nice little tempo. Sometimes a Saunier Duval rider was up there, and that is what we more or less expected. At the team meeting in the morning, Bjarne Riis said that Simoni would try to win this stage, as he's from the area and he needed to start his assault on a podium place.
As it turned out, that's more or less how it went. The boys did a fantastic job to the bottom of the climb, then kept the tempo up. Simoni and Piepoli were aggressive. They wanted to make the race hard, we knew it beforehand. Then when we saw Cunego and Savoldelli lose contact, for Simoni that was the signal to give full gas, which he did do. Ivan needed to wait a bit and see what was happening, then it was time to go. He went on, by himself, and was very strong at the finish. He was very calm and alert. And he went onto the victory. This is a definite confidence booster to himself and the team.
For Simoni, he knew if he could come to the finish with Ivan, he stood a good chance of beating him, because he's a bit more explosive. But he has to get there first. This morning, Bjarne said Simoni would be going for the victory, and if Ivan comes to the finish with Simoni, it's probably not going to happen. But Ivan needs to take time on the other riders. If he succeeds in doing that, he'll be alone, and he'll win anyway.
Ivan did what he had to do. Now he looks very secure, and it's looking very positive for the coming days.
The team is strong too. They're going well - a couple of guys are tiring a bit, but it's the end of a three week tour. Some have been on the front since the prologue. But they've all got good motivation, good morale, and can see Milan in sight.
It's another difficult day tomorrow, then a bit of a lesser day: long but not too bad, with a few climbs in the middle. Then we go into Friday and Saturday, which are two mega days.
At the moment now, Ivan just has to defend. That's how you win. It is a three week stage race, and he's been good until now. Everything has been calculated, and the planning and the tactics have been thought and talked about over three weeks, not just a couple of days, with special attention to key stages.
From the prologue, some people said CSC were not ready for it, but it's not a one week race. You need to be able to be there at certain points of the race, reach certain goals, e.g. in the team time trial, individual time trial, and the mountain stages. The team has been able to help Ivan reach those. For the rest, it's just to take an advantage, and then control it.
You've also got to remember that there's a few riders who've dropped away which we didn't expect: Savoldelli and Cunego for example. Then, on the other hand, you've got Gutierrez, who has been very consistent.
Overall, Ivan's professionalism and his dedication to training and racing is something I have seen in very few other riders. He's very secure at home, there's no show about him either. He was offered a pink helmet the other day, and he said, 'No, that's not me.' I think everybody will start to get to know the real Ivan Basso more in the near future.