Ivan Basso put his climbing legs to good effect on stage 3 of the Tour de France, leading the group of favourites on the final ramp before the finish. Liquigas-Cannondale will be hoping that the show of strength will be a taste to come from the two-time Giro d'Italia winner over the next few weeks.
"Yesterday wasn't anything special," Basso told Cyclingnews this morning. "It's what I have to do and it comes from the spirit in the team. We have two objectives in the team: one is to get [Peter] Sagan into the best position in the final and the second is to take [Vincenzo] Nibali to the front for the next stages in the race."
Basso has been delegated as Vincenzo Nibali's super domestique for the Tour, and it's a card that the majority of rival teams will be envious of. The two worked in tandem to tame the opposition in the 2010 Giro with Basso winning the overall and having both riders together in the mountains will strength Nibali's chances of making it onto the podium in Paris.
"Vincenzo has the priority," said Basso. "I invested a lot of my energies in the Giro. Okay, it didn't go as I wanted or expected, but at the moment I'm okay. I'm not super strong but the plan at the start of the year was for me to go to the Giro and Nibali at the Tour and I'll do my best for him. It's really important for both of us to get stronger in the next few stages and have two riders at the front in the mountain stages."
Team leaders don't always make the best domestiques and cycling is littered with examples of individual pride and stature coming before the goals of a team. Not only that, but the role of a domestique is almost an art and not one some professionals spend their entire careers fine tuning and practicing. It takes a certain set of skills and mentality that not all riders can fathom, let alone produce. Basso acknowledges that he has needed to alter his riding in order to fulfil team orders but that his mentality is certainly in check.
"It's different, of course, but that's really good for me because I'm sure that in 2013 and 2014 I can come back and be the leader in the Giro or the Tour. It's good to try another role within the team, though. It's a pleasure for me to work for another champion," he told Cyclingnews.
"We worked really well together in the Giro of 2010 but now it's the opposite positions for the pair of us."
And what of Nibali? The Italian looked as though he would challenge Alberto Contador in Grand Tours when he won the Vuelta in 2010 but a thrashing in the 2011 Giro brought the Italian back down to earth. With Contador at home Nibali has his best chance yet of graduating to the Tour podium, a home Basso reached twice before his doping related ban.
"We have to believe," said Basso. "It's the Tour and it's a really special race, the most difficult race in the world and we'll work for the win but it's a day by day programme and that's what's going to put us in a strong position. For the moment we've only raced a few days but we've done very well.
"The Giro is a different race and Liquigas has to ride a different system. That's just my opinion. We did a very good Giro but I just came up short in the last three days."