Ivan Basso didn’t want to dedicate his Zoncolan stage win to just one person but after his family, perhaps his coach Aldo Sassi deserved it the most and was probably the happiest person to see Basso and Cadel Evans coming first and second of the most spectacular stage of the Giro d’Italia.
Sassi, who is battling a brain tumor, made it clear before the Giro d'Italia that he believes either Basso or Evans can win the Giro and win it cleanly.
"Cycling has improved a lot. Things have really cleaned up. If either Ivan or Cadel win the Giro, we'll have the proof that you can win without doping. I totally trust them and I'm certain they wouldn't do anything to hurt me…." He said in a moving interview with Gazzetta dello Sport a few days before the start of the Giro.
"They're like two sons for me and I can't chose between them. Cadel is the strongest athlete I've ever coached. Ivan is the one with more determination."
After his victory, Basso insisted that he had no more secrets. "Everything is online on my website, anyone can check my blood values, my training sessions and the hills I’ve climbed. All the details of what I’m doing are there," he said.
"Since I’ve decided to come back to racing, I’ve rigorously followed what is my team’s strict way of thinking but first of all which is my way of thinking. I chose this way of cycling even before I joined Liquigas.”
Basso was suspended for doping from May 2007 until October 2008 after finally admitting he was a client of Dr Fuentes and part of Operacion Puerto. He made his comeback with Liquigas at the 2008 Japan Cup race in October.
Last year he finished fifth at the Giro d'Italia and fourth at the Vuelta Espana but never seemed to find the form that allowed him to dominate the 2006 Giro d'Italia. On the Zoncolan, he showed he was back to his best.
“I have always thought I could experience the feeling of a great win like today’s”, the Italian said in a post-race press conference.
“I’ve been racing for 27 years. I’ve never won a lot of races but I’ve always won some. I’m aware that the years are passing and there are young riders who were only promising four years ago but who are true champions now. The Italian cyclist for the future is the guy who won yesterday (Vincenzo Nibali). We are from two different generations. It’s in our advantage if we unite our strengths.”
The Liquigas-Doimo team was heavily criticised for playing losing so much time during stage 11 to L’Aquila but showed the real strength by dominating the first two mountain stages of the Giro d’Italia.
“The team has been fantastic”, Basso said. “They set the pace from more than 100 kilometres. I’m very proud of my team. It’s been a great day of cycling. The Zoncolan was really hard. I suffer because of my build and my weight on such a steep climb. I was climbing mostly in the saddle at the rhythm of an uphill time trial. There wasn’t any moment to catch your breath and just making it to the top was really hard.”
Basso was surprised that he dropped Evans with 3.7km to go. “Cadel is a great champion”, Basso said. “He’s one of the most tenacious riders I’ve ever seen. You never understand when he’s at the limit. From here until Verona, he’ll be a difficult adversary to race against.”
Basso considered it was too early to speculate about further attacks in the race. He is now 3:33 down on race leader David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) but has overtaken Carlos Sastre who is a further 48 seconds back, while Evans is 1:10 behind.
“There’s still a lot of hard work ahead”, Basso concluded. “I’ll try to recover during the rest day and then think about the rest of the final week.”