The Italian rides with the Texan
It has been nearly a year and a half since Ivan Basso and Lance Armstrong were side by side in their bicycle kits. Monday, December 4, the two were reunited in Austin; this time in the same Discovery Channel team colours. One month ago, Armstrong and Team Manager Johan Bruyneel struck gold, of sorts, when they got the signature of the 29 year-old Italian.
After the chaos of Operación Puerto, Basso reached a termination of his contract with Team CSC and started to search for a new team. At first it appeared he would have trouble finding a ProTour team willing to take the risk in a rider that could be dragged back into the Spanish investigations, but in the end Bruyneel, along with the team's lawyers, determined he was a safe bet.
After the press conference and Giro d'Italia route unveiling on Saturday, Basso left his home in Cassano Magnago, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Armstrong's home town of Austin, Texas for the first Discovery Channel camp. Monday, the two rode together for the first time since July 2005; a three hour ride around the hills of Austin.
"It was not the fist time that I had talked to him," Ivan Basso said to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "There were e-mails and SMS messages. ... I found him looking fit; he was slim from the New York City marathon and as I remembered him. He still goes strong on the bike."
After the team spent a year of searching for direction, Armstrong has seemingly handed over his captain role to the only Italian on the team. Basso continued, "He said to me, 'it is better late than never. This is your team. Here you can win the Tour.' For me it is the start of new adventure, one that I hope will finally get me the maillot jaune. I am emotional, like a few years ago when I switched from Fassa Bortolo to CSC. But, with respect to that transfer, this time it is a smaller step up. I have grown; I know myself and what I am able to obtain."
Basso has found comfort in his new teammates, including Americans Levi Leipheimer, who, following his contractual agreements, is still riding in his 2006 Gerolsteiner kit, Tom Danielson and George Hincapie. He will be training with the entire team through Tuesday, December 12, focusing on riding and gym-work, along with team building activities like paint-ball gun battles and go-kart racing.
"This is a team that is used to winning, and after seven years they have a new prospective number one," continued Basso to Luigi Perna of La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Everyone is very excited to have me with them. Bruyneel had told me it would be this way, but here I was able to verify this in person; the respect from my teammates, from Hincapie to Padrnos. I know that it will not be difficult to feel like a leader of this group."
Team manager Bruyneel added, "We are ready to be back into the game. ... The arrival of Basso has created a rise in the team's motivation. It had felt the lack of a leader for the Tour."
2007 Discovery Channel riders (26): Antonio Cruz, Benjamin Noval, Brian Vandborg, Egoi Martínez, Fumiyuki Beppu, Fuyu Li, George Hincapie, Gianni Meersman, Ivan Basso, Janez Brajkovic, Jason McCartney, José Luis Rubiera, Jurgen Van Goolen, Levi Leipheimer, Matthew White, Pavel Padrnos, Sergio Paulinho, Steve Cummings, Stijn Devolder, Tom Danielson, Tomas Vaitkus, Trent Lowe, Uros Murn, Vladimir Gusev, Volodymyr Bileka and Yaroslav Popovych