The Italian finished on the podium in 2004 and 2005, but did not ride the Tour again until last season following his implication in Operacion Puerto. Now 33 years old, Basso claims that his mindset has changed in the intervening period.
“When I was obsessed with having to win it, I burned myself with negativity that certainly didn’t help me,” Basso told La Stampa. “A dream instead is something that you follow with a smile because it is a very beautiful and fulfilling thing. I’m serene.”
Even though he passed up on the defence of his Giro d’Italia crown in order to focus on energies on July, Basso said that he feels no additional pressure for having built his season around one race.
“I’ve concentrated everything on the Tour by skipping the Giro and for me it wasn’t an easy decision, but that doesn’t mean that a defeat would send me into a crisis,” Basso said. “Nobody will complain to me about that, be it the management at Liquigas or my supporters.
“I think that people judge me based on the effort I put in. I’ve done all I could to prepare myself well.”
Despite an early victory at the GP Lugano, Basso endured a listless spring and complained of fatigue following a solid but unspectacular showing at the Volta a Catalunya. A crash in training on Mount Etna in May further complicated his build-up, and the Italian’s sub-par showing at the Critérium du Dauphiné means that the true state of his form is a mystery on the eve of the Tour.
“I’ve just finished the fine-tuning at San Pellegrino, they were ten hard and intense days,” Basso said. “There’s a bit of an unknown with the effects of crash on Etna, I don’t know what they are. It was a hard fall, with a blow to the head and 18 stitches to my face, and it affected my work a bit afterwards.”
Unsurprisingly, Basso named Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) as the favourite for overall victory at the Tour in spite of the Court of Arbitration for Sport proceedings that hang over him.
“Contador is a rider of real class who goes beyond the confines of cycling, like Alonso, Bolt and Messi do in their sports,” Basso said. “Everybody knows that if they are in a competition, they will probably win, but they appreciate watching the phenomenon win.”
Basso picks out his former CSC teammate Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) as the principal challenger and explained that each rider impressed him from their earliest days in the peloton.
“Even though I’m no Harry Potter and I can’t predict the future, after five minutes, I could see that they possessed the stuff of champions and that they would be very tough for my generation to beat,” Basso said.
Perhaps with those two riders in mind, Basso suggested that a place on the podium would be the summit of his ambition, and he reiterated that his approach was more serene than in the past.
“My objective? To climb onto the podium six years on from the last time, but without feeling a gun against the back of my neck in the event that I don’t.”