By Anthony Tan in Sestri Levante
At the end of yesterday's press conference in Pontedera, maglia rosa Ivan Basso got a little fired up, something rarely seen from the 28 year-old Italian.
Questions and answers were bounced to and fro for the first fifteen minutes or so, talking about his second place in the 50 kilometre time trial, how confident he is, and the distance between stage winner Ullrich and himself, which he said was something he'd rather not think about right now. "For the moment, I'm not concerned about it and I don't want to think about it, because this Giro is taking me a lot of energy each day. I'm happy with my time trial and I did better than I thought," Basso said.
Talking about his growing legion of fans was also discussed: "Ten years ago, I was asking Gianni Bugno for an autograph in July; now it's normal that whenever I can, I give autographs and stay a little bit with my supporters.
"For example, this morning, I saw two cyclo-tourists out on the road and I said, 'Ciao, come stai?' [Hi, how are you?] and they were really happy. I did nothing, but they will be happy for the rest of the Giro. It's only normal that if I have time, I dedicate some of that to my supporters and to the public."
Another anecdote was his visit to the University of Ferrara, where former rider turned TV commentator Davide Cassani goes once a month to give a lecture to students studying sports medicine, bringing along a champion sportsman as a special guest. One time, Cassani came with Basso, who brought along his SRM readings and showed the class his entire training sessions. Francesco Conconi, a professor and director at the university, also happened to be around, saying that Basso's engine was one of the best he'd seen.
But that's when Basso remembered something he'd recently read in a newspaper, which said he was still working with one Luigi Cecchini, a publicity-shy preparatore who has quietly worked with some of the biggest names in cycling, including Michele Bartoli, Alessandro Petacchi, Jan Ullrich and Damiano Cunego. His name was also involved in the doping case surrounding another Italian doctor, Michele Ferrari, but was dropped in 2001 due to a lack of evidence.
Cecchini was also Bjarne Riis' preparatore for a number of years, which saw the tall Dane triumph in the 1996 Tour de France. When Riis set up Team CSC, he hired the now 62 year-old Italian to help formulate individual training programs for his riders and assist with training methods, but as the relationship between Basso and Riis developed, the former's contact with Cecchini became less frequent. Around July last year, Basso terminated his cooperation with him.
"Before you write that, come and ask me, because I don't work with Cecchini," he said tersely. "I work with Bjarne Riis and my preparatore is Riis. If journalists come and see us training, they will see the way we work and our philosophy, and you will see how we are working.
"I don't like to read statements [about myself] that aren't true - ask before you write."