News feature, May 29, 2006
I.B., The Extra Terrestrial?
Such was the description used to denote the performance of the maglia rosa over the past three weeks by Gilberto Simoni. But 2006 Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso says the only thing he's got in common with that stranded alien creature, three million light years away, is his desire to phone home. Anthony Tan reports from Milan, Italy.
Yesterday, a magnificent mountain stage was soured by the comments of Gilberto Simoni, who described the performance of Ivan Basso over the past three weeks as out of this world - defining it 'extra-terrestrial'.
"I've never seen anyone dominate [like Basso], never seen any one that strong! He seems like an extra-terrestrial," Simoni said post-stage, his face and words minced with bitterness.
"My life changed when I met Riis." - Basso says he's very much from this earth, and he attributes his superlative performances to his team manager Bjarne Riis
Whether the Trentino scalatore was implying Basso was 'assisted' in some way is up for speculation, but Basso wasn't happy when he heard this: "I don't like to be called an extra-terrestrial or a phenomenon," he said.
"I've been on the podium in the Tour de France twice and was the only rider who could stay with Armstrong on the climbs. My ride today is another demonstration of how I've been riding during this Giro. And I don't think I stole anything from anyone. I've already shown my character at this year's Giro."
The maglia rosa admitted words were exchanged between the two on the descent of the Mortirolo, where he told Simoni it was better they rode together until the start of the final climb to Aprica, and fight for the win from there. But it seems Simoni was under the impression that Basso would 'give' him the win, rather than have to fight for it.
"Maybe Gilberto will understand that it is not as bad as it seems; maybe he said those things because it was straight after the finish, but there is nothing to complain about," said Basso.
"In this Giro, I have always been honest and played fairly. My team has always been well behaved, and today, my team worked a lot. In the last kilometres, I didn't attack, I only rode my pace - and it made the difference.
"I don't want to get into polemics; I don't think I did a foul move today. Also, we have given some wins, like Voigt did [on Stage 18]. If we [Simoni and I] were fighting every day for the win, then I would understand."
Another thing to consider is that Basso and his family used to holiday a lot in the area of Valtellina when he was young, and he claims to know the ascent to Aprica like the back of his hand. "My grandparents live near here, fifteen kilometres away. I've had a lot of holidays here when I was young and have a lot of friends, and the Aprica climb I've done more than one hundred times," he said.
A different point of contention but along a similar wavelength also surfaced one week ago. It was written Basso was still working with Dr. Luigi Cecchini, the same preparatore now CSC team manager Bjarne Riis had when he won the 1996 Tour de France, but the 28 year-old strongly denied any current relationship with Cecchini and that his trainer is Riis, telling the press to 'ask before you write'.
"My life changed when I met Riis," Basso said. "He is incredible; he is always with me in the difficult moments, personally as well. He was there when my wife almost lost the baby twice in the last month.
"Before the time trial in Pontedera, he was on the motorbike and I spent one hour on his wheel to train for the Pontedera time trial. Sometimes, I go training for seven hours and he's there on the motorbike for the whole seven hours. Also, he lets me believe in my potential; it's been three and a half years we've been together."
Asked if he feels like numero uno in the sport, he stated: "No, I only feel happy; I think all the riders in this Giro have made a great show and have fought a lot, and we are all great riders, not only me.
Continued Basso: "I'm not a Martian, nor do I come from another planet. In the last four Tours de France, I have made a steady progression, and I came here prepared like I would come to the Tour. The Giro deserves the best Ivan Basso, and I think I've only improved a little bit from last year - I've improved slowly and steadily. Remember, I won Critérium International and the Circuit de la Sarthe at the beginning of the year, so there is work behind this win."