News feature, February 5, 2007 - Part II
...Continued from part I
Discovery reborn with Ivan Basso
The signing of Ivan Basso in December began as a controversial investment and has since become the rebirth of a new team mindset and a fresh face. Basso's presence in Solvang has sparked an energy that Discovery Channel has not felt since the retirement of Lance Armstrong.
The team's new leader remarked upon feeling very good about his first months with Discovery. "For me it is a very special time," Basso said. "You can only imagine that it was not a good summer or first part of the winter for me last year. I did not know which team I would ride for in 2007 and I arrived here, with this new team feeling very comfortable. All of the people with Discovery Channel like me and have a lot of respect for me because of the work I have done in cycling in the past. I feel very good and I am sure that I have become a part of this team quickly."
"I felt that the pressure was on my shoulders to make big changes in the team, some very important changes - hiring Ivan Basso was one of them." - Johan Bruyneel had to satisfy huge expectations from both fans and sponsors
Bruyneel acknowledged that Basso's signing has brought new hope to the future of the Discovery Channel. "It is not a secret that I want us to be again where we were before," Bruyneel said. "I mean that we can win the Tour and the big stage races. I think we have assembled a very strong team this year to try again. It is difficult for me to be happy with something less than that. If you have tasted and are used to the maximum success, we cannot be happy with being a team that goes only for stage wins and places second in the big races. Of course the pressure that I put on myself and on the team is the price we need to pay for having done what we have done in the past. Our sponsors expect only the best from us, which means winning. The fans expect us to win, the team expects it and I expect it. It is something that we had gotten used to and when I did not have the feeling that we were able to do that again I had lost my motivation, so I need this kind of great pressure."
Bruyneel spoke of his future plans for the team based on the 2006 season and the changes that will aid in the future of the program. "Last year Lance retired but the rest of the team basically stayed the same in the hopes that some of the strong riders of Discovery could jump up and take the role of the leader's position in something like the Tour de France," he explained. "For different reasons that plan did not work out and in the end I learned a lot from last year. Overall I have to say that I am satisfied with the 2006 season and for any normal team it would have been a great season. The only problem is that we set the limit so high from the years before that anything less than winning the Tour de France was not good enough. I felt that the pressure was on my shoulders to make big changes in the team, some very important changes - hiring Ivan Basso was one of them."
Although Basso never managed to knock Armstrong from his perch during the 2004 and 2005 Tours, Bruyneel acknowledged that the Italian is one of a handful of riders with proven credentials for capturing the yellow jersey come July. "When I look at the facts of the last two seasons of the Tour de France with Lance present, Ivan was the only rider to follow Lance in the mountains," Bruyneel said. "I looked at the statistics of all the stages and in two years Ivan had only lost one minute to Lance. So that is important information to have if you think about Ivan and his possibilities to win the Tour. If he is fit and has a good support team, I think his chances are good to win. I am very happy he is with us."
George still wants Roubaix
Discovery Channel's future goals do not solely revolve around the Tour de France. U.S. national champion George Hincapie has his eyes firmly focused on winning Paris-Roubaix, a race where the American has often been faced with stronger teams, the irrepressible might of Tom Boonen or just plain bad luck in the 2006 edition. And though the Tour de France is undoubtedly the team's main focus, Bruyneel still has one eye on the Spring Classics. "We would love to see George win Paris-Roubaix, even more than the Tour of Flanders," he said. "Paris-Roubaix is a race that he has been dreaming of since he was a young professional and he has been very close a few times. If George won Paris-Roubaix it would almost be the same as winning the Tour de France for us. That is our big goal."
Discovery also highlights the Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia as the most important team objectives. "They are two of our biggest goals of the year," Bruyneel said. "The reason is because we are an American team and it is our obligation to be at our best in the two biggest American races."
Turning negatives into positives
Along with a new team, a new leader and new goals comes a transformed perspective on Operación Puerto. Discovery Channel has begun the season with a positive attitude and a positive outlook on the past season's negativity.
The positive change began with Basso's signing with Discovery, after spending several months secluded from public attention with the intention of protecting himself and his family. For Basso, spending time with his family was the only way to keep a positive outlook under the circumstances. "I have two babies, a daughter and a son, they are the reason why I was able to smile all the time," Basso said. " When you have a baby who is one month old and he is smiling at you, you forget all of the bad situations."
The scandal surrounding Operación Puerto brought with it the decision for Basso and Team CSC to go their separate ways. "I have a very good relationship with Bjarne Riis and I need to give thanks to him," Basso said. "He is someone I have a lot of respect for. When my name Ivan Basso was in good shape for having two podiums in the Tour and being the Giro winner, it is thanks to Bjarne and the entire team of CSC. We decided the best situation for myself, Team CSC and Bjarne was to change the life. I am really happy about this decision because I have great memories from my old team and good relationships with most of the riders on CSC. It is better for everybody that we go our separate ways."
Signing on the dotted line with Discovery Channel has proven to be the biggest motivating factor in Basso's career after the bout of turmoil. "When I signed with Discovery Channel in November I began to feel good again, thinking about the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia with increasing motivation and morale," Basso said. "I am always motivated to train but there were times when I had little morale. I continued training, never stopping because I wanted to reach the end of the year still as a rider."
Last year's scandal continues to bring anti-doping procedures to the forefront of cycling. Bruyneel discussed the impact it had on the structure of anti-doping within the UCI, saying, "The UCI recently announced the new anti-doping policy and that is another step forward in the fight against doping. Cycling has always been a pioneer in the fight against doping and every time we take a new step forward other sports follow us, that is ultimately a positive idea. These new anti-doping policies of the UCI, which hopefully all teams will live by, are the greatest in sports and this is definitely positive."
There is no doubt that the scandal affected the sport of cycling in many ways and Tom Danielson was one rider not afraid to share his personal fears. "A lot of negative things have come out of Operación Puerto." Danielson began. "No one really knows what the situation is and it has definitely scarred cycling plus a lot of riders and their families. If it turns out to not even be an issue that is bad for our sport. Perhaps the positive thing is that there is more confidence in the system of anti-doping and hopefully this situation has forced the public to look at the proper procedures and improve the methods and techniques of the anti-doping system."
"It needs to be a 100% measure because the scary thing is that this is our job," Danielson continued. "Ivan has a family with two children and I have a wife. If anyone were to make a mistake it costs us our family and our job and that is very scary. Hopefully this momentum of anti-doping, partially due to Operación Puerto, will ensure that it won't happen in the future."
Return to part I