The stage of the Giro d'Italia to the summit of Monte Zoncolan was a great race to watch but for Italian coach Professor Aldo Sassi it was an especially emotional day.
Sassi, who coaches both Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans, is currently undergoing treatment for a brain tumor. He revealed his personal battle in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport just a few days before the start of the Giro. He described Basso and Evans as being like two sons to him and claimed if either win the Giro, it will prove that it is possible to win without doping.
"I can't choose between them. Cadel is the strongest athlete I've ever coached. Ivan is the one with more determination," Sassi said.
"Cycling has improved a lot. Things have really cleaned up. If either Ivan or Cadel win the Giro, we'll have the proof that you can win without doping. I totally trust them and I'm certain they wouldn't do anything to hurt me…."
Times for the climb and data calculated by Gazzetta dello Sport seemed to back up Sassi's hopes.
Basso climbed the 10.1km to the summit of Monte Zoncolan in a time of 40:45, one minute and 45 seconds slower than Gilberto Simoni in 2007. His average speed was 14.7km and he put out an average of 395 watts on the climb.
The VAM (Velocità Ascensionale Media) or average climbing speed adjusted for the gradient, was calculated at 1777m/hour and Basso's power to weight ratio was 5.68km/h. In the past Sassi has said that any value over 6.2w/kg for a long effort on a major climb at the end of a stage race could be an indication of doping.
Despite undergoing treatment, Sassi has been speaking almost on a daily basis to Gazzetta about the Giro and was rightly proud of how Basso and Evans rode on the Zoncolan.
"It was a intensely fought out stage, you can tell from the speed they climbed and the average power they put out. It was about 400 watts. Only a few riders can manage that and it means that they were right at their limits," Sassi said.
"You could also see how the climb made a clear selection, with Scarponi, Vinokourov and Sastre losing time. It opened up the overall classification."
Sassi refuses to consider Basso and Evans rivals, however. "I don't consider Ivan a rival to Cadel and I don't consider Cadel a rival for Ivan. The other riders are their rivals," he explained.
"I'll just be happy if they both do the very best they can. Cadel started the Giro at his very best form but Ivan is growing in confidence and power. He's closing the gap that there seemed to be before the start of the Giro."
It was widely noticed that Basso preferred to climb the Zoncolan sat in the saddle, while Evans, who admitted in his blog that he had to ride a bigger gear than he had wanted, was often out of the saddle using his power to get up the climb.
Sassi explained the two different rider's styles:
"They have two very different styles. Ivan prefers to ride in the saddle, often even more agile than he did on the Zoncolan. I personally think that's a weakness and we've tried to get him to work on getting out of the saddle and going over his threshold. Evans is more used to working over his threshold because of his past as a mountain biker."
Basso and Evans will next clash in the Plan des Corones mountain time trial on Tuesday. Sassi warned both of them about the perils of the rest day and it can affect their performance the day after.
“Plan des Corones is a very tough climb, we've all seen how steep it is in recent years. And the rest day will make things complicated," he warned.
"A rest day doesn't always help the riders. Some go well after it but others have big problems going at their best. That could be another factor in the result of the time trial."
A special dedication from Michael Rogers
This year Sassi has began working with Michael Rogers and must have been very proud to see the Australian hold off the attacks from Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer on the final stage of the Tour of California. Sassi has helped Rogers recover from two years of illness and injury, changed his training and helped with his motivation.
Rogers dedicated his victory in California to Sassi in a moving Twitter message: "That victory was for Aldo Sassi. Never lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel!" he wrote a few hours after the