In the wind tunnel at MIT
That December, at Team CSC’s annual bootcamp, would begin a transformation that would surprise the Cycling world. Basso had never learnt how to swim; something of a handicap on the bootcamp when he (and the rest of Team CSC) were sailed 2km out into the ocean and dropped off in the water with orders to get back to shore – on their own. But that was just the beginning; in the following days he would be ordered to jump from a six meter high cliff into the ocean, followed by an additional four meter dive into the depths. Undaunted, Basso completed the tasks set for him, and his and the team’s careful preparations paid off when the team blew away the field at the Tour de Méditerranéen to capture all three podium spots; with winner Jaksche and Basso registering the same time. He continued to show good form; helping team mate Jaksche to the win at Paris-Nice, and demonstrating his attacking skills at the Setmana Catalana in March where a crash (by two teammates) prevented an attack that could have propelled him to the win. The aggressively riding Basso of old was on evidence again that April at the Tour du Romandie, though multiple attacks were unable to shake eventual winner Tyler Hamilton.
As May came round, Basso and Riis were pulling out all the stops in preparation for the Tour. A trip to MIT (along with Carlos Sastre) was undertaken, and extensive wind-tunnel testing carried out in an attempt to improve Basso’s time-trialling. His improvements in the discipline would be evident later in June, when he took fourth in the Italian National Time Trial Championship, just 22 seconds behind eventual winner Dario Cioni. In the run-up to the Tour, Basso would also stretch his legs at the Dauphine Libere – attacking along with Michael Rasmussen on the hilly stage 6 to Grenoble, and when a mechanical forced him to let Rasmussen go, hanging on alone in front of the pack to finish a strong second. Basso was set for the Tour de France 2004.
Basso in Action
Basso came to the Tour de France in 2004 to get some answers, and on the heat and rain up the Col du Tourmalet, they came. While Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton and the other contenders struggled in their wake, an attack by teammate Carlos Sastre provided the springboard from which Ivan Basso and Lance Armstrong would demolish the peloton. At the summit of La Mongie, Basso’s first Tour de France stage victory, and his first victory in over a year, was a reality.
The following day brought confirmation; as Basso stayed with Armstrong to take second on yet another day when the pre-race favorites lost time. Basso had suddenly become the number one contender, and the world was crying out for an all-out attack on the yellow jersey. Basso and Team CSC, remained level-headed, as Basso explained:
…there was no point in me risking everything to perhaps gain a handful of seconds. If I had seen him struggling, I’d have attacked to try and win the Tour, but that never happened.
Basso in the 2005 jersey
There were no chinks in Armstrong’s armor however, and at the Alpe d’Huez Time Trial, Armstrong secured himself his record-breaking sixth Tour when he passed Basso on his way to victory on the stage. Despite doing one of the best time trials of his career on the last flat time trial of the Tour (finishing 6th, 2:50 off Armstrong), he still lost second place to T-Mobile rider Andreas KlÃ¶den. Basso had reason to be satisfied with his podium spot however; written off by most (though notably not by Armstrong) prior to the Tour, and aiming only for a Top-5 prior to the race.
After a string of criterium victories in the aftermath of the Tour, Basso took a short pause to return strongly in the fall. At the Giro dell’Emilia, it was finally Basso’s turn to win. Taking turns with a strongly riding Francesco Casagrande, they distanced the chase group including Jan Ullrich and in the final two-man sprint, Basso distanced his compatriot decisively to take the victory. He would take his good form into the World Championship; though a race that turned out less hard than expected left him little chance for victory. He would finish the season at the Giro di Lombardia, where he would be the dominating rider at the race. A brilliant ride only sufficed for third place, however, as a brilliantly riding Damiano Cunego succeeded in recovering to steal the win.
As we prepare for 2005 where Basso will be riding the Giro d’Italia and the Tour the France, we can look forward to an exicitng year ahead.