Ivan Basso (Cannondale) will finally put an end to what has been a testing and injury-filled season at the Japan Cup this coming weekend. Yet despite missing the Giro d'Italia due to a golf-ball size saddle sore that required surgery and then quitting the Vuelta a Espana due to the cold and rain in the Pyrenees, the 35-year-old Italian still sees himself as a Grand Tour contender and team leader in 2014.
He has been linked to both Astana and Saxo Bank in recent months but has told Cyclingnews he will stay with Cannondale, preferring a role of team captain alongside Peter Sagan rather than a role as super domestique and leader for the Giro d'Italia in a rival team such as Astana or Saxo Bank.
Basso has raced for the Italian since making his comeback from a ban for working with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes in 2008 and his involvement in the Operacion Puerto blood doping investigation. He finished ninth overall in the Tour of Beijing this week, despite his troubled season.
"It's been a disaster… It was hard from every point of view," he admitted to Cyclingnews.
"I started my training for scratch three times during 2013: first to get ready for the Giro d'Italia, then for the Vuelta and again for Il Lombardia and the end of the season. I only raced two small races after pulling out of the Vuelta but I kept fit. That shows that I've been professional."
After the highs and lows of his career, Basso knows that comebacks are part of a rider's life. He refutes the idea that he is getting old.
You get old when you start to think about being old," he said.
"Despite my problems, my approach to the 2014 season won’t be an different to the past, but I also know that I'll be going up against the best riders in the world. It'll be tough because I know I'm not up there with the very best anymore but perhaps a little bit behind them. But people will expect you to try and win and that's what I'll do."
The Cannondale team captain
Cannondale is expected to soon announce its final roster and objective for 2014. The team will remain registered in Italy but more than ever the team will be built around Peter Sagan, giving him more support in the Spring Classics and to target a third consecutive green jersey at the Tour de France. Basso is happy to be team leader at the Giro d'Italia rather than ride for Vincenzo Nibali or Alberto Contador.
"I've got a special relationship with this team. It's my team in lots of ways, it's where I made my comeback (from a doping ban for Operacion Puerto). I'll never leave this team because we have special relationship," Basso said loyally.
"I might not always be the team leader at Cannondale in lots of races, but I'm the team captain."
"People also know I have a special relationship with Vincenzo and the tifosi would like us to ride together but I've got to think about my team. I'm more than just a rider at Cannondale."
"Our team is going to change a lot. Things will be announced soon and we'll confirm the structure and the goals of the team. The Giro d'Italia is like a perfectly fitting suit for me and so I'd love to ride it again."
Basso attended the Giro d'Italia route presentation in Milan before traveling to Beijing.
"It looks like a great route. It always is. I say that as a rider who has won it twice, who dreams about winning it a third time and who really suffered this year because I had to mss it this year due to a saddle sore problem," he said.
"I think it's more balanced as a route. There's a team time trial, mountain finishes, a mountain time trial and an individual time trial. It's balanced because if you lose some time, you can get back some where else."
Basso will line-up alongside Sagan, Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida). He will wear number one after beating Martin in 2012.