By Gregor Brown
Ivan Basso and Franco Pellizotti will share the leadership responsibilities at Liquigas for the three-week Giro d'Italia stage race this May. Basso won his home tour in 2006, but has not raced a Grand Tour since, due to his involvement in Operación Puerto and a related two-year suspension.
"We have someone in the team who has finished fourth last year, one second off of third. The first two finishers [Alberto Contador and Riccardo Riccò - ed.] are not racing, so I think Pellizotti has the right to start the Giro d'Italia as a leader," Basso said to Cyclingnews.
Italy's Pellizotti held the maglia rosa of overall leader for three days in last year's Giro d'Italia. Later in the same race, he won the mountain time trial up the gravel roads of Plan de Corones. Despite the strong presence of eventual winner Alberto Contador, Pellizotti went on to finish fourth overall at 2:56 back. (For more read Leader for a year)
"I am not saying that I am dropping all responsibility, but given what he has accomplished he has the right to start as a leader. Then, clearly, the road will decide who will be supported by the team."
Liquigas signed Basso in April 2008, before his suspension ended six months later. He began his 2009 season with the Tour de San Luis; his latest race was the Tour of California. He had to abandon the Californian race due to a knee injury.
The two riders will race together today in the Giro del Friuli. Pellizotti make his season debut in Friuli, his home region. The public will get a better view of the team dynamics when the two race together at the Tirreno-Adriatico next week, March 11 to 17.
"The public's opinion and what it expects is another discussion. I am not saying I will not be in optimum form for the Giro, but you have to give respect to those who have worked hard in the last two years. It is not a new concept: I have shared responsibility in my old teams, with Carlos Sastre at CSC for example."
The Giro del Friuli, 184.2 kilometres, consists of a circuit that starts and ends in Pordenone. The Caneva Castle climb in each circuit will break up the race, but the finale is flat. The race was last held in 2004, when Pellizotti finished runner up to De Nardi's Michele Gobbi.