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Winter training: Nibali, Basso and Riccò begin 2011 preparations

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A long way from the podium in Milan, Ivan Basso (Liquigas) steers clear of a puddle.

A long way from the podium in Milan, Ivan Basso (Liquigas) steers clear of a puddle. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) with Aldo Sassi.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) with Aldo Sassi. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Ivan Basso (Liquigas) works out at home in Varese.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas) works out at home in Varese. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Ivan Basso (Liquigas) uses the winter for strength and conditioning work.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas) uses the winter for strength and conditioning work. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) is looking to the 2011 Giro d'Italia.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) is looking to the 2011 Giro d'Italia. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The man to follow: Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) begins his 2011 preparations.

The man to follow: Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) begins his 2011 preparations. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) is not on top condition but is ready to train again.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) is not on top condition but is ready to train again. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) knows that it is a long road back to the Giro d'Italia.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) knows that it is a long road back to the Giro d'Italia. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) saddles up for a day of training.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) saddles up for a day of training. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) tackles Ivan Basso's training climb of the Cuvignone.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) tackles Ivan Basso's training climb of the Cuvignone. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Clear blue skies and a crisp Lombard day greeted Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) in Castellanza.

Clear blue skies and a crisp Lombard day greeted Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) in Castellanza. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) travelled to Lombardy to meet with Aldo Sassi.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) travelled to Lombardy to meet with Aldo Sassi. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Aldo Sassi admits that working with Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) is a risk, but one that he believes is worth taking.

Aldo Sassi admits that working with Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) is a risk, but one that he believes is worth taking. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) pictured with Aldo Sassi before beginning his training ride.

Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) pictured with Aldo Sassi before beginning his training ride. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Aldo Sassi and Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil).

Aldo Sassi and Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil). (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Aldo Sassi will train Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) ahead of the 2011 season.

Aldo Sassi will train Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) ahead of the 2011 season. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Charcoal skies greeted Ivan Basso (Liquigas) on his first day back on the road.

Charcoal skies greeted Ivan Basso (Liquigas) on his first day back on the road. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Ivan Basso (Liquigas) on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas) on the shores of Lake Maggiore. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Ivan Basso (Liquigas) was well wrapped up against the elements as he began his winter training.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas) was well wrapped up against the elements as he began his winter training. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) midway up Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) midway up Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) did battle with the wind on the way up Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) did battle with the wind on the way up Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) pedalling to the top of Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) pedalling to the top of Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) says the wind will be a major factor on Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) says the wind will be a major factor on Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) on the early slopes of Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) on the early slopes of Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) climbs through the haunting beauty of Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) climbs through the haunting beauty of Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) reaches the Rifugio Sapienza on Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) reaches the Rifugio Sapienza on Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is about to tackle Mount Etna for keeps.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is about to tackle Mount Etna for keeps. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and a reminder of another aspect of Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and a reminder of another aspect of Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) surveys the snow atop Mount Etna.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) surveys the snow atop Mount Etna. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) at home in Sicily.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) at home in Sicily. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Ivan Basso (Liquigas) returns home after his first training ride.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas) returns home after his first training ride. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Ivan Basso (Liquigas) gets in the miles.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas) gets in the miles. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Aldo Sassi and Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) discuss the day ahead.

Aldo Sassi and Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) discuss the day ahead. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Three riders, three approaches, one objective. The Giro d’Italia may not be be until next May, but the shadow boxing for the maglia rosa has already begun.

In the past week, Vincenzo Nibali, Riccardo Riccò and Ivan Basso have begun their preparations for next season and taken the first tentative pedal strokes in their battle for the hearts and minds of the tifosi.

Nibali and Basso: the Liquigas leaders

Vincenzo Nibali is the only one of the trio certain to ride the Giro, and accordingly was already busily reconnoitring one of the key stages of the race. The Vuelta a España winner recently returned to his home in Sicily with the spoils of his Spanish campaign, but he also took the time to ride to the summit of Mount Etna, scene of stage 9 of next year’s Giro.

It was Nibali’s first time tackling the mighty volcano since an excursion up its barren slopes as a ten-year-old. After starting his day with a coffee in the sun at the Caffè Mocambo on the coast in Taormina, he made his way inland and wound his way to the top of Etna through dropping temperatures and rising winds.

While he was filled with pride at the idea of racing through his island’s stirring landscape, he was also careful to note some of the potential dangers posed by the stage, particularly the strong gusts on the exposed upper section of the climb.

“There could be wind and so there would be real difficulties,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. “In terms of difficulty, it’s a four-star stage, but it will be a five-star spectacle.”

Meanwhile, 1400km north in Varese, Nibali’s Liquigas stable-mate Ivan Basso was also cranking back into action ahead of next season. The 2010 Giro winner has been making noises about focusing his energies on the Tour de France, and given his age and the possible absence of Alberto Contador, Basso may never have a better chance to wear the yellow jersey.

Nonetheless, the lure of a third victory in his home race may ultimately prove too much for the Lombard. In any case, Basso, who turns 33 at the end of the month, began his training for 2011 in low-key fashion, with a steady ride from his home in Cassano Magnano to the shores of Lake Maggiore. He remains tight-lipped on his precise programme for next season, but his plans to race earlier and more often in 2011 may be a sign that he wishes to be in form by the time the Giro starts in May.

Riccò loses the nickname and begins rehabilitating his image

Basso’s trainer is Aldo Sassi, and while the pair continue to work together closely, Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) is also using the facilities of the Mapei Centre to fine-tune his build up to next season.

Riccò’s unsavoury reputation saw him sidelined from this year’s Giro, but beginning his collaboration with Aldo Sassi and the Mapei Centre in front of emissaries from Gazzetta dello Sport was a clear statement of his intentions to be welcomed back into the fold in 2011. Basso turned to Sassi to help rebuild his reputation after he served a suspension for his part in Operacion Puerto. The Liquigas man had confessed to what he called "attempted doping" under the supervision of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. By a similar token, Riccò returned from a two-year suspension for CERA use in March 2010.

After a day of testing in the centre in Castellanza, Riccò took to the road under Sassi’s watchful eye. Although slightly more corpulent than when he took victory at the Coppa Sabatini in September, the man from Modena still gave brief glimpses of his qualities on the climbs that punctuate the area.

Public relations exercise or not, Riccò’s partnership with Sassi appears to be another important step on the delicate path to a first ride in the Giro since 2008, the year of his positive test for CERA at the Tour de France. Before returning home to Emilia-Romagna, Riccò even took the time to assure Cyclingnews that “the Cobra is dead…”

There is a clearly lot of road to be travelled between now and the start of the Giro for the erstwhile Cobra, both on and off the bike. If his Vacansoleil team is conferred with ProTeam status for 2011, Riccò's route to Turin would certainly be facilitated considerably, but the man from Modena still has much to do in order to assuage the concerns that continue to surround him.

Nonetheless, Riccò is convinced that he will indeed be one of the protagonists at next year's Giro and so it was no coincidence that he was keen to try out the climb of the Cuvignone, Ivan Basso's primary test site. We may be all of six months from the beginning of real hostilities, but the opening shots of the battle for Giro d'Italia supremacy have already been sounded in the depths of winter.

View our gallery of the beginning of the Nibali, Basso and Riccò's  2011 preparations here.