Sassi tips Basso, Evans for Vuelta glory

Riders' coach confident that both riders will be strong in Vuelta's final week

Dr Aldo Sassi, coach to Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans, believes that both riders will be in peak condition during the final week of Vuelta a España and are capable of winning the race.

Both Basso and Evans will compete in the Vuelta a España, which starts Saturday, and are amongst the favourites to win. "Maybe Ivan will be better in the first week as he will be able to react to the changes in pace in the race due to the nature of his training since the Giro. Cadel may take some time to settle in during the first few stages and he could suffer then because he has not raced since the Tour. However after the first week both should be at their best," Sassi told Cyclingnews.

Sassi, a coach at the Mapei centre in Italy and a well-recognised figure in cycling, trained Paolo Bettini and the other Mapei cyclists during the team's heyday. He has worked with Evans since the beginning of the 2002 season, when the Australian signed with the now defunct Mapei team as a first-year professional. Sassi agreed to work with Basso at the start of the 2008 season, after the now-Liquigas rider asked him to post his blood profile and test results online in order to show complete transparency.

For Sassi, training two of the most successful riders in the peloton holds no problems, despite their competing ambitions in the Grand Tours. "For me it’s not difficult. I had this at the Mapei team where there were several riders trying to peak for one race like Paris-Roubaix. It might have been difficult for them, but not for me. I am a trainer, so when a race starts my job is finished. I try to do my best for every athlete and in this case it’s Cadel and Ivan, but they’re very different riders, both in character and physiological profiles."

Evans will enter the Vuelta after a poor showing in this year's Tour de France. The Silence-Lotto captain had been billed as potential winner after finishing second in 2007 and 2008, but finished in 30th place overall, his lowest finish in the Tour.

Basso too will look to banish memory of his own, albeit different, period of disappointment. He returned to racing in 2009 after his involvement in Operación Puerto blood doping scandal and subsequent two year suspension. The Italian has structured his season differently to Evans, first competing in the Giro d'Italia, where he finished 5th, and then racing at the Tour of Pologne.

"They both have different attitudes to training and that’s really important when creating schedules. Cadel is approaching the Vuelta after a long period of training at altitude without any racing since the Tour de France, while Ivan has a different approach because he raced the first half of the season and peaked at the Giro. He then recovered, resumed training at altitude and then raced Tour of Pologne. He then did another week of altitude training and some one day races to keep the paced varied. Both have very different approaches."

Sassi also gave his assessment as to why Evans was unable to perform at the Tour, pointing to issues other than the rider’s fitness. "The reasons are very complex. I don’t think it was totally physical problem. There were some stages were he wasn’t in the best condition, but the problem was perhaps more linked to other factors; like his relationship with his team and his expectations coming into the race. I think that the gap he lost in the team time trial changed everything," Sassi said.

"After the team time trial he lost his positive attitude and became more stressed. He also had a stressful winter due to being a favourite for the Tour. He wasn’t in optimal psychological condition."

Sassi was unwilling to compare the two athletes' physiological capabilities but did explain that the physical make-up of each differed significantly. "Both can sustain high efforts of roughly 6 watts per kilo for thirty to forty minutes. One has a much higher maximum heart rate and blood lactate concentration at the anaerobic threshold. They are similar engines with similar power and capacity but they work in slightly different ways. They can both sustain very hard training loads. Though, of course, each has their own preference when it comes to training."

As for Basso, his new coach believes that the Italian could be even stronger next year with a full season of competition in his legs. "He rode very close to the level I expected in the Giro but were some riders in the race that rode above or over the level I expected. There is obviously some unfortunate data that backs that up." Sassi said, perhaps referring to Danilo Di Luca’s positive tests for EPO-CERA.

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