What's Cool In Road Cycling

GIRO ’09: The Riders Talk!

The real purpose of having people on the ground at Grand Tour launches is to find out what those who will actually be in the race think about the course. We talked to Ivan Basso, Jonathan Vaughters, Marzio Bruseghin & Gilberto Simoni

Venice’s magnificent La Fenice theatre played host to the grand unveiling of what has turned out to be a less than typical Giro route.

Prior to the grand unveiling, PEZ grabbed Ivan Basso as he was returning from checking his coat at the cloak room and with no one else about, we took the opportunity to pose a few questions to him (in English!) about the progression of his comeback.

“I’m very pleased with the way things went in the lead up to the Japan Cup and my training. Very happy.”

PEZ: And the Giro? Will it be your primary goal for 2009?
“I prefer to wait and see what the course is. Really, it’s better to wait and see until the presentation has been done. Come and ask me again when I have seen the route.”

End of discussion. Oops. I blew it. So much then, for my ‘door stop’ interview skills and my nice little one-on-one. As he turns to leave, Basso stops, smiles and says, “Don’t worry, we have plenty of time. We can talk later.”

I wasn’t convinced, so decided to take Ivan’s advice and wait until after the show. After all, that was why we were there and that was what the riders were expecting to be asked about.

After the official end of the presentation, the press are allowed back into the theatre and most people make their exit. Out in the foyer, Team Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters was easy to spot in his argyle scarf and after his team won the opening TTT in the 2008 race, it seemed a natural place to start to ask about the 2009 route.

“It’s a very interesting course, that’s for sure. I mean, look at those climbs in the first five days. I think for us, we’ll be coming with the objective of defending our team time trial title.

“We’ll start off with that and we’ll probably bring a young climber to the race, you know, Dan Martin, Tom Danielson or maybe Trent Lowe. So the first objective will be to go in and win the team time trial and then see if one of our younger riders can ride a general classification as well, and then in the later part of the race, go back to stage hunting or a time trial, maybe Vande Velde in the long time trial,”

What do you think of the long TT?
“I actually talked to Christian [Vande Velde] about that the other day. If you look at the Giro, you’ve gotta be in perfect condition for that first week in May and it’s a long way from the Tour. But I said to him you’ve gotta think about trying to win that long time trial.

“It’s a long technical really hard time trial. That can be really good for him: Christian can do well in it.”

Is there any change in objective in 2009 with regards to riding both the Giro and the Tour?
“No, Christian wants to do both. Racing the Giro and racing hard at the Giro is what got him to the point where he could do so well in the Tour, so its not a matter of sitting in the grupetto and just twiddling around. Christian was riding for the maglia rosa for quite a bit of the race, so if he wants to do that, it’s already worked for.

“So our objectives are that we’re going to bring a really strong team time trial team and a really strong team to hunt for stages and then one young climber to see if he can take away something on GC in that first week,”

Will Garmin be pre-riding the stages?
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll definitely pre ride it, but it looks pretty straightforward, it’s just four corners and that’s about it.

“With the climbs, I don’t think we’ll be able to [pre-ride them]. With them coming in the first week of may, those roads are only going to be open just before the race, so I don’t know if that’s really going to be possible.”

Back inside the theatre, it was all action up near the front, but one of the most cheerful pro cyclists around, was hanging out down the back, so we asked Marzio Bruseghin what he thought of the long time trial. (Well, once he had helpfully reminded me that cronometro was the word I was looking for in Italian and not “errrr, errrr, time trial??”. Embarrassing moment number 2 for the night!)

“I’m not a specialist, but the length and the difficulty, will be to my advantage. There are hard climbs and technical descents, so that’s better for me.”

What about the overall? Will you be looking to ride a good general classification?
“Umm, that’s up to the team. If they decide I should ride for the GC, then I’ll try.”

Short, to the point, but luckily the (proper) Italian half of tonight’s PEZ crew, chatted to Bruseghin also, so there’s more insight to come from there.

Up on the stage, Ivan Basso was being mobbed by the pack, so as Gilberto Simoni tried to sneak out the side door, we asked him whether he was happy with the course?

“Yes, very satisfied.”

Is there a stage in particular that looks like a good one for you?
“For me? Block Haus. I don’t remember exactly which stage, but that a very interesting stage for me.”

Exit stage left, Gilberto Simoni. The stage that’s piqued his interest, however, is the 79km (yep folks, “just” 79k) Stage 17. Coming on the Tuesday of the final week, the route map looks like a slightly flattened fishing hook, and includes a nice little run along the sea at Pescara, followed by close to 60km of climbing from sea level to an altitude 2064m!

So then it was time to take the bull (or at least ‘Girbecco’) by the horns and seek out Ivan Basso. We found him back on the stage surrounded by a bit of a scrum fielding questions about the course.

When asked about the long time trial and weather he considers himself a favourite for the Giro, Basso reminded that assembled group about the palmares of a few others he might be up against:

“[Laughing] Armstrong has won seven Tours [de France]. He’s won in the climbs he’s won in the time trials. Lance is a class above everyone else. He is strong on the climbs, he’s very strong in the time trial. In this moment, together with Contador, they are the two guys.”

When pushed, for the Giro, Basso mentioned, “Sastre, Evans, DiLuca, Cunego and Simoni,” as riders who he would also consider as favourites for the race. As for the course, when asked if he was pleased or displeased with the route itself, Basso summed up his feelings and his desire to get back into racing:

“After two years at home,” he said as he turned to look at the race map behind him, “it’s all good to me.”

So at the end, Basso posed for a pic or two and departed. No English language one-on-one about the course or the comeback, but at least (thanks to Marzio Bruseghin) I was able to understand when he was talking about the “cronometro”.

So that was it. Job done, time to email a few more pics and walk through the rain back to the train station. Then, as we were heading back to the press centre, who should we bump into at the bottom of the stairwell, checking his blackberry for the umpteenth time that night, but Basso himself.

When he sees the PEZ top, he turns to face us and gives us his full attention (possibly also thinking, “I thought I gave this guy the slip”).

With both Lance and the route already discussed, we asked about something he had said on stage when speaking earlier, about feeling “embarrassed”, with regard to his fans.

“I have big emotion, you know, when you stay home two years. I want to come back with my feet on the floor, but in my heart, I’m really excited to be coming back. I have used this power for working hard and to drive me.

“Of course, with the people and the fans, it’s difficult for me sometimes because the people have the disillusion. I hope that over time the people become less hard with me and think ‘ok we give another possibility to Basso.’

“We are trying to do everything with openness, everything is clear, everything is on the website, the training, blood tests, everything. I can’t do more, than stay with my feet on the floor and work and try and convince the people that I’m OK, that I’m good.”

What about your first race in Italy in 2009? Will that be a special kind of emotion to be back in front of your home fans?
“I have all time motivation. Japan, Italy, it doesn’t matter. I’m ready!”

Basso summed it up well in Italian, as he concluded the earlier group interview we stood in on.

“Parlare poco e lavorare tante.” – Less talk and lots of work.

Satisfied that between us we had covered most of the big names it was time for one last email back to PEZ HQ. While sending through the final batch of pics from the press room, Giro race director Angelo Zomegnan held a press conference right beside the table where we were set up.

Don’t ever underestimate how serious Sr. Zomegnan is when it comes to the race he runs. When asked whether Simeoni, the current Italian champion, would actually get invited to the race, voices were raised (and the issue was side stepped).

When asked why the finish was not going to be in Milan this year, the answer was along the lines of, “In 91 previous editions of the Giro d’Italia there haven’t been 91 finishes in Milan.” But, as my mother always said, It’s not what you say, but the way you say it and trust me that this was said in a way.

Then when The PEZ himself called me for an update, ‘The Big Z’ shot me a look that could kill, as my ring tone interrupted what he was saying for the second time in five minutes. Thanks Rich!

It was at that point I decided not to ask my one and only question of: “Could you please explain why your office sent out a press release saying Cadel Evans was riding the Centenary Giro, when he quite clearly says he is not?”

As they say, discretion is the better part of valour and as the lap top lid closed on the 2009 Centenary Giro presentation, the PEZ team lived to fight another day.

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