Italy, May 14, 2006
Last time I wrote, we had just won the team time trial. This time we're in pink, so the least I can say is that it's been good!
I always found it a magic period, getting into the second week. Everybody is just starting to find their rhythm for the next two weeks. It's been very busy for the mechanics and soigneurs, a lot of work from the transfer to the TT, followed by a dead flat sprinters' stage and then two hard and long race days. We've been able to deal with it ok so far. The riders are well looked after by the staff, and we've got cook Soren who's waiting on them for brekky and dinner.
There was a bit of tiredness to be noticed today though, a few tired bodies to be seen out on the bike. Yesterday was a demanding day for everyone, a real day of attrition. Then today we had the first of the mountain top finishes. We came into today's stage and I think everyone was feeling a bit tired; so were our boys. But Ivan, well, Ivan was ready for it. And you've seen that too.
We were feeling confident but our vision wasn't clouded, we didn't get overly positive. Firstly the team directors had a meeting - Bjarne, Allain, and myself - and we talked about the different possible scenarios. Really, today, there weren't too many unexpected things that could happen due to the parcours. It was different to yesterday where, as we saw confirmed, anything could happen; the boys had to be on their toes all the time. Keeping control is pretty difficult on a day like yesterday. It was like moving pieces around the board to have everything covered. A parcours like today's was easier to read and the moves easier to anticipate. The break was controlled to the foot of the climb, and the strongest guy arrived first on the top of the mountain.
Ivan lost a few seconds yesterday, but this is a three week race, those didn't matter much. We were expecting that he would be able to do something today and it turned out very well. Ivan has showed he's ready to take on this race, to try and push for the top spot on the podium. But I wish to point out that it's no time yet to count our chickens as we've still got two long weeks to go.
In the breakaway today, we had our birthday-boy Nicki Sorensen (31), who wasn't the best placed rider in GC in that group, but he wasn't badly placed either. We could take it easy in the peloton, as no-one in the break constituted a danger to the classement. Some other teams had to put their cards on the table though; Saunier Duval started the chase. They had Pinotti in the break, but he wasn't feeling good (stomach problems), so he was doing as little as possible, which is normal when your team is chasing.
Having Nicki out there was great because if the break did go out further, he could do something. With only three minutes lead though, it was clear the group would never make it to the top of the mountain. Nicki was just rolling through to keep the carrot in front of the donkey.
We came to the climb, and the other boys could move Ivan up to where he had to be. Then a fantastic Carlos Sastre lashed out. He was incredible; the work that man did! He is not new to this; this is a guy who finishes on the podium in the Vuelta, and pushes for stage wins in the Tour.
Carlos did his bit on a big open section, which enabled Ivan to sit more at ease out of the wind. Ivan wanted to wait until we got into the forest. Cunego obviously had the same idea, and waited until then to attack. Ivan was able to cover the move, saw Simoni was in trouble, and was able to go across and counter Cunego straight away.
Then it was just a matter of putting the pedal to the metal until the top.
It's fantastic when you've got the TV on and can watch all this happening. Giovanni, who was in the back of the group, was trying to ride alongside my car to get a glimpse of the TV in the last kilometre. He really didn't want to miss seeing Ivan's ride to the finish. He was absolutely stoked about Basso taking the stage. Giovanni is Ivan's right hand man in this tour, just like he was last year.
Ivan took an bloody nice victory, and it was very rewarding because everyone has worked so hard. For Ivan, it's a big confidence boost going into the final two weeks. We saw a couple of big favourites in trouble. It's opened the race up a lot. As I mentioned the other day, this would be the next big test. We've seen where a lot of riders are at the moment. But this by no means allows us to say that it's cut and dried.
Ivan was able to get himself a bit more of a cushion until the next TT. He's got some time up his the sleeve, and it's good for him and the team. We're confident. All the riders and the whole team. But we've still got two tough weeks to go and we'll be approaching it accordingly.
Ivan has grown a lot, matured. He's not getting as nervous as he used to. I think we're now seeing the strength of Ivan Basso. He knows he has done the work. He's done the reconnaissance. Actually, we did this stage when we were here earlier this year in Tirreno-Adriatico. After one of the stages, I took Ivan up in the car, and he made a few notes on it. It was good to do, nice to see it all.
And most of the other important stages Ivan's ridden himself with Bjarne. It's the best thing to do. Simoni and Cunego have all done them as well, Savoldelli has done them. Most are scouted during the winter. It's the same preparation as the Tour riders like Ullrich and previously Armstrong do for the Tour stages. It helps a lot, so you don't get any huge surprises.
Tomorrow, there's a short stage. It's still a race day but it's also allows to recuperate a bit, which will be well received by most.
We're ready for the rest of the Giro, the riders are ready, the whole team is ready. A result like this from Ivan - and especially the way in which he did it - gives us a lot of confidence. But, we're keeping touch with reality 'cause the biggest mountain days are still to come!