Basso optimistic

Ivan Basso (CSC) is tipped as being one of Lance Armstrong's most dangerous challengers during this year's Tour. After finishing third last year, Basso has improved another notch this year, even if he couldn't completely demonstrate it during the Giro. But coming into the Tour, Basso is confident that he is up to the task.

"I don't know where I'm at in comparison with Ullrich or Armstrong," he told L'Equipe. "But I know that I've done everything to be ready and that I'll attack Armstrong when I can."

Basso recalled his race last year, where he performed well but suffered in the mountain time trial on l'Alpe d'Huez. "Until L'Alpe d'Huez, I felt as though I could make that Tour explode, and that euphoric feeling never left me," he said. He has trained all winter on the Düsseldorf, Germany track to improve his time trialling. "I think I've shown at the Giro that I improved with regard to that, without losing my capabilities in the mountains."

Basso reconnoitred the final ascent to Courchevel, today's time tiral and the Blois time tiral, "but not more," he added.

He learned a lot at this year's Giro, mainly about himself. "Ít was important for me to prove to myself that I was able to overcome the worst moments of crisis." A similar attitude to that of his biggest Tour rival, Lance Armstrong.

Riis downplays Ullrich

CSC team manager Bjarne Riis knows what it takes to win the Tour, having done it himself in 1996 and being by the side of Jan Ullrich when the young German did it in 1997. But in 2005, eight years after Ullrich's victory, Riis doesn't believe that Jan can dethrone Lance, and feels the greater challenge will come from elsewhere. "After what I saw of Jan during the Tour de Suisse, I can't say that I'm impressed," said Riis to Dutch newspaper AD. "In the big mountains, he comes too short, certainly in comparison with Vinokourov. I consider him as a much more dangerous customer.

As far as Basso's chances go, Riis believes that he will recover from his bad Giro. "Ivan is no Simoni," said Riis. "To ride a second Grand Tour is a question of motivation, of mentality, and of thorough, sophisticated preparation. I can say that these elements are present to a large degree. Ivan is ready for the Tour.

New sponsor

Italian company, Nobili, will become a new sponsor for Team CSC starting with this year's Tour de France. Nobili, which produces water taps and tap fittings, will have a prominent spot on the Team CSC jersey both front and back. The deal is for one year, initially.

"We see this sponsorship deal with Team CSC as a unique opportunity to get exposure for our brand internationally, and we are happy to have found a strong partner in Riis Cycling," said Nobili's export manager Carlo del Negro. "We have commercial interests all over Europe, and that is why this sponsorship works for us. We have very good experiences with cycling via other sponsorship agreements, but the deal with Team CSC is at a much higher level."

Riis Cycling's sales and marketing manager, Lars Gjøls-Andersen, expressed his pleasure with the deal, and hoped it would "open the door to a more lengthy agreement."

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