"My teammates aren't interested in the Armstrong era"
Ivan Basso turned 36 in November but is about to start yet another season as a Grand Tour contender and is expected to lead the Cannondale team at the Giro d'Italia and other stage races.
Basso had a difficult 2013 season. He was force to miss the Giro d'Italia due to a golf-ball sized saddle sore and then quit the Vuelta a Espana on stage 14 after suffering in the cold and rain. Yet he recovered to end his season at the Japan Cup and is still motivate and hungry to do well in 2014.
Basso is a survivor. He has come through the Lance Armstrong era of cycling, where he was one of Texan's biggest rivals and Bjarne Riis' favourite rider at the CSC team.
After lengthy denials and even a spell with Armstrong at the Discovery Channel team, he was suspended for doping after evidence linked him to Operacion Puerto and served a two-year ban. He came back to win the 2010 Giro d'Italia, finished seventh in the 2011 Tour de France and fifth in the 2012 Giro d'Italia.
He has worked carefully to cast off the shame about his doping, insisting he has learnt his lesson and changed his ways. He seems to appreciate he has been given a second and that keeps him motivated for the future. Yet Basso always tries to side step questions about doping and his past. He's perhaps ashamed but also astute.
Speaking to Cyclingnews before the holidays, just a few days after Armstrong made his Tour of Europe apologizing to Christophe Bassons and other people he bullied during his career, Basso insists that he and his current teammates are not interested in what happened in the past.
"I haven't heard from Lance. I haven't heard from him since things happened…" Basso admitted to Cyclingnews, referring to Armstrong's lifetime ban, his confession to doping, subsequent downfall and legal battles.
"I'm often asked a lot about the past but to tell the truth, what happened in the past isn't talked about in this team. The guys talk about their holidays, their cars and their family, as well as cycling and racing. We don’t talk about doping."
"It's like being in a well-educated family that is against swearing and bad behaviour. I'm lucky that this team doesn’t allow me to talk about the past and isn’t interested in me talking about it. We're interested in the future and doing well in 2014."
"What happened is part of my past but it happened a long time ago. It really is in the past. We've never mentioned Armstrong at the dinner table for example. My teammates aren't interested in the Armstrong era. They're don’t ask me to talk about the past but about now and about the future. I think that's great, it's the right thing to do. That's why I feel young again."
No plans for retirement
Basso shared a room at the Cannondale training camp with 19 year-old Matej Mohoric, who won the Junior road race world title in 2012 and then the Under 23 world title this year before joining Cannondale. Basso claims he is inspired to continue racing and training thanks to the young riders in the team. The training methods brought by new head coach Sebastian Webber have also motivated Basso. He has no plans to start thinking about retirement.
"You're old only when you feel old and when your team thinks you're getting old. That's the start of the end," he said.
"But I don’t feel old and this team doesn't make me feel old. There's a special feeling in this team this year, there's a buzz in the air which is motivating me."
"I'm convinced I can still do well. My role is to win races but if it doesn’t happen, nobody will pull me up about it, there won't be extra pressure on me because the team management know that cycling is a complex sport, where you have to accept defeat if your rivals are stronger than you."
Building for an assault at the Giro d'Italia
Basso acknowledges that he has to rebuild his fitness and form for Grand Tours during the spring of 2014 after his problems of 2013. He wants to be contender for the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia.
Despite what happened at the Vuelta, I'm still convinced I can get be competitive in Grand Tours.
"I'm not just saying that, I accept that people maybe be skeptical but that only motivates me more and inspires me even more. However I want to build my season step by step, race by race, as I did in 2009 after my ban," he explained.
"I want to approach the season in certain way in 2014. You can't perform at a certain level in the spring, you can't claim you're going to try and in the Giro d'Italia. Targeting a Grand Tour is like climbing Everest. You can't just head to the summit from base camp, you've got to prepare for it and work gradually towards it. It's virtually mathematical that if a rider does well, they can build on it and go on to do even better. Winning and putting your arms up lifts your moral and level of performance."
Basso will start his season at the GP Costa degli Etruschi and the Trofeo Laigueglia in Italy before riding the Tour of Taiwan. The Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the Giro del Trentino and Tour de Romandie will be other vital steps as he builds up for the Giro d'Italia.
"I want to be going well at the Volta a Catalunya. That's the first race with a circle around it for me. From there I hope to build up step by step and have the summit in sight," he said.
"I need a result so that I'm confident I can open the gas in a major race when I need to. It's not easy to explain but when you have the form to attack and go away alone is very special an only happens after months of training. I need to feel I can achieve that. It's not about your watts, your watt/kg, your threshold. The results of a race, the general classification, is the ultimate result of a race."
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