When Ivan Basso last raced the Giro d’Italia in 2012, he was one of the most solicited riders in the peloton, with a troupe of reporters laying siege to his bus at the end of every stage. Out on the road, his Liquigas team raced as though he were the favourite, employing catenaccio tactics at the head of the bunch, and it was deep into the final week before his hopes of victory definitively faded.
Two difficult years on, however, Basso scarcely featured in the list of general classification contenders before this Giro began after struggling for form in the build-up to the race. The Cannondale squad, meanwhile, is built largely around the sprinting talents of Elia Viviani, with Basso’s overall tilt almost an addendum.
As the race enters its first mountain stage of substance at Montecopiolo on Saturday, Basso lies in 10th place on general classification, 2:06 off the maglia rosa and still uncertain if he has the condition necessary to match the leaders in the climbs.
“We’ll see, we haven’t done this kind of climb in the race just yet,” Basso told Cyclingnews in Frosinone on Friday. “Like if I’ve said from the start of the Giro, I don’t feel like I’m at the same level of the best riders. I still haven’t felt the sensations that you need to be up there with the best riders but I hope that will improve as the days pass.”
Basso was among the many fallers on Thursday’s dramatic finale at Montecassino – he dismissed his crash as “a bit of a slide, nothing important” – and although he recovered sufficiently to finish in the same group as Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran, 49 seconds down on Cadel Evans, he was put to the pin of his collar to do so.
“I actually didn’t feel good because I started the climb from a long way back, I had to go hard from the bottom and it wasn’t easy to make up ground. I suffered a lot,” said Basso, who felt Evans was well within his rights to take advantage of the carnage behind.
“It was 11 kilometres from the finish, and I think that in a situation like that you can’t do anything other than race. It’s happened a lot of other times in the past and I think it’s all a bit of a pointless debate really.”
Basso has a wealth of Giro experience, including a brace of Giro victories (2006 and 2010) either side of a ban stemming from the Operacion Puerto blood doping investigation, when he admitted that he had his blood withdrawn and stored in a Madrid freezer by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
Now in his ninth appearance in the corsa rosa, Basso said that he had rarely experienced an opening week as difficult as this year. Marked by daily rainfall, chilly temperatures, a spate of crashes and a transfer from Ireland, the Giro’s tough start could exact a price in the third week of racing.
“We’re only in the first six days. It’s a very difficult and demanding Giro. Nobody expected that first part of this Giro to be quite as difficult and complicated in terms of weather. It’s really been durissimo,” Basso said. “It’s a Giro that’s been a lot more complicated than we might have expected up to now.”
It has also been a Giro that saw a brace of general classification contenders – Dan Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez – eliminated from the race by ill fortune, but on Saturday at Carpegna and Montecopiolo, Basso expects the first selection based purely on physical condition to take place. “Saturday is a real climb and I think we’ll see the candidates for overall victory at the front in the end,” he said.