Ivan Basso has defended Alberto Contador after criticism from Tinkoff team owner Oleg Tinkov, saying he believes the Spaniard can still be competitive in Grand Tours despite turning 34 on December 6 and changing his mind about retirement mid-season.
Basso has worked closely with Contador since overcoming testicular cancer in 2015 and ending his own professional career. Like Contador, he will be part of the Trek-Segafredo team in 2017 but will not be a directeur sportif or team manager. Instead he will be in charge of the development teams linked to Trek-Segafredo and represent the two brands at races.
In October, as the Tinkoff team competed in its final races, Tinkov attacked Contador, revealing in a final interview with Cyclingnews that the two never got on. The Russian team owner suggested Contador will be like 'a limping duck' after he decided to continue his career with Trek-Segafredo and not retire as initially planned. Tinkov also warned about Contador's entourage that will move to Trek-Segafredo for 2017.
Basso revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport that he has spoken to Tinkov and given his point of view. He denied there is a Contador clan that is difficult to manage.
"I don't agree. The point is that when a marriage ends, there are always some problems. Time will tell who is right. I've clarified my relationship and my point of view with Tinkov," Basso explained.
"Alberto is simply a guy who often forgets about the talent he has. He is still working hard with ambitious goals even though he's won everything time and time again. He's got the wellbeing that a career like his has given him but he lives for his sport."
Basso is convinced Contador has done the right thing by extending his career.
"There's no doubt about it. And he'll prove it. Oleg asked me the same question and I said: 'Nobody has the right to say to a rider like Contador when they have to quit'," Basso said.
"I don't want to enter into the details of their relationship but there's nothing wrong with riders being obsessed about a race. Being obsessed is what helped him win all that he has.
"For sure Alberto can win another Grand Tour. I've always said that he doesn't race against Quintana, Froome or other top riders, he races against himself."
The youth project
Basso ran the Venice marathon in late October and a 10km event in Valencia, Spain, at the weekend. He now uses running to stay fit while preparing for his new role at Trek-Segafredo.
"After doing a bit of everything this year, from accompanying guests to driving the lead team car, in the new team I'll have a much more precise role - I'll be in charge of what we've called 'the youth project'. I'll also be at races representing Trek and Segafredo and I'll be on the board of directors of the team. I won't have an 'in-race' role in the team," he explained.
"Three development teams are linked to our team: Viris, Altopack and the Ausonia junior team. There's also the Fundacion Contador but that's not directly linked to us, and we're also working with a Belgian team. We'll follow about 60 young riders and I'll have the support of the Mapei Centre. Half way through the year we'll know is ready to make the step up.
"I'm optimistic that this way of working will yield some results in the next three to four years and even in the short term, starting next season."
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