Ivan Basso life and biography

Ivan Basso picture, image, poster

Ivan Basso biography

Date of birth : 1977-11-26
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Gallarate, Province of Varese
Nationality : Italian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-07-21
Credited as : Cyclist, participating on Tour de France,

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The Early Years

Ivan Basso was born at Gallarate in Italy on the 26th November 1977. There, in the North of Italy, Basso grew up in the traditional cycling region of Varese. Son of Italian tifosi and next door neighbor to legends such as Claudio Chiappucci, it may have been inevitable that the passion for cycling would be transferred to Ivan Basso at an early age. Basso’s first racing bike was his by the time he was five, and within a year he would start riding competitively.

Climbing the Stelvio

It was only a few years later that he made the decision to conquor the Stelvio. The legendary mountain pass on which so many Giro d’Italia have been decided was to be scaled; and if only his parents would drive him there, drop him off at the bottom and wait for him at the summit, he and his bicycle would take care of the rest. His parents acquised; Basso was dropped off for the 25.4 kilometer and 7.25% gradient journey up the 2757 meter high summit. His parents waited for him at the summit for most of a day.

They did not wait in vain.

Humble and soft-spoken, the young Basso still possessed the stubborness, cast-iron will, and patience of a Champion racer. A successful junior racer, Basso’s first big victory came when he won the Coppa d’Oro (the Goblet of Gold) in 1993, the most important race of the Student Category in Italy (a race also won by such legends as Saronni and Bugno). And if anyone did have any doubts about Basso’s potential, it was removed two years later at the Junior World Championships in San Marino, where only a puncture on the last 10km cost him the victory. Compatriot Valentino China went on to take the World Championship victory instead, but Basso confirmed to take second in front of yet another Italian, Rinaldo Nocentini.

As Basso matured, he developed a calm and methodical approach to Cycling. From his time as a student, Ivan kept records of his rides; distances, times, weather and road conditions, cardiac frequency, feelings, and countless other notes on every race and situation in which he found himself on the bike. 1998 was to be the year in which the carefully methodical preparation paid off. His 11 victories in the course of the year was an impressive harvest, but was to culminate with the twelfth and ultimate victory: the U-23 World Championship in Valkenburg. Calm and prepared, neither the competition nor the cold and windy weather could disconcert Ivan Basso as he rode alone across the finishing line to win the rainbow jersey. The Italian squad completed a dominating and impressive performance with Rinaldo Nocentini and Danilo di Luca taking second and third behind Basso.

The doors to Professional world were wide open, but Bassso delayed signing a contract for half a year. Out of respect and gratitude for his amateur team, Zalf, to gain more experience, and to complete the final and fourth year of his studies in Technical Geometry. Meticulous and careful, as always. He would go on to win four prestigious victories in 1999 wearing the rainbow jersey for his old team, before turning professional with Riso Scotti-Vinavil in May 1999.

His debuted professionally in the Giro d’Italia; a transition, in Basso’s own words, “like passing from the Earth to Mars”. Though retired from the race by his DS after stage seven, the experience provided important lessons for the future. A good first year was capped off with a selection for the senior Italian World Championship squad. A solid ride as a helper for Casagrande gained Basso no medals, but a lot of respect.

Riding for Amica Chips-Tacconi Sport in 2000, Ivan Basso rode the Giro again. Although he gained no victories, he gave the peloton a taste of his talents when he made it over the mythical Passo di Gavia with the favorites on the tough 14th stage. A 52nd place finish overall was nothing to write home about, but Basso was learning with each tread on the bike. The experience he was gaining was put to good use when he scored his first professional victories at the Regio Tour International; winning the first stage from a breakaway group of nine, the short individual time trial on day 3, and gaining second overall behind then teammate Filippo Simeoni. His first victories were followed up by an impressive ride at the Giro dell’Emilia, where he finished in 5th.

The Fassa Bortolo Years

The year 2001 would be a watershed year for Basso. Early that year, he married Micaela, his fiancee over the past year and a half. Clear and level riding; at home as well as on the road. A child would follow, in due time; the serenity of family life would provide an important counterweight to the frenzy of life on the road. Basso was ready for the jump into the big leagues. That year he joined the Fassa Bortolo squad of Giancarlo Ferretti.

Early in 2001, Ivan Basso demonstrated why Ferretti had picked him, when he demolished the field in the Tour de Méditerranéen on the way to the leader’s jersey and stage one victory on Mont Faron ahead of Davide Rebellin. Unfortunately a bad crash in the last kilometer of the fourth stage broke his collarbone and destroyed what should have been his first stage race victory. He was back in action by the Flèche Wallonne, part of a breakaway group of 12 riders who escaped after 15 kilometers, and the last man to drop off when Rik Verbrugghe put in the race-winning attack from the peloton, finishing just 5 seconds of the pace.

As June came round, Basso showed his form on the penultimate and queen stage of the Bicicleta Vasca, when he counter-attacked Joseba Beloki on the second last climb, putting in 1:20 minutes to win the stage. A few weeks later, he would win the Queen stage of Österreich-Rundfahrt when he attacked after 18km with a teammate and, having been caught by chasing group, put in a solo attack that saw him win the stage by almost a minute over the closest pursuers. It was time for Ivan Basso to become acquainted with the Tour de France.

The first acquaintance, however, was to be hard and bitter. Attacking on the wicked descent of the Col de Fouchy, Basso created the winning break consisting of Laurent Jalabert (CSC’s star rider of the time), Jens Voigt (who would capture the yellow jersey on the day), Laurent Roux and Inigo Cuesta. It was not to be; on the descent to Colmar, Basso went down hard, breaking his collarbone for the second time that year. Though he rose to finish the stage (finishing 1:38 behind in fifth), he was forced to abandon.

He would bounce back to once again capture a respectable Top-10 placing in the Giro dell’Emilia; and with three impressive mountain victories won with panaché and aggressive riding, Basso had given notice of his arrival to the big league.

Basso would spend the winter 2001/2002 in increased honing of his skills. A wind tunnel test in Germany would help to develop his time-trialling skills, while meticulous practice would develop his pedalling cadence. Basso’s preference for the heavy gears was the technique of the past; the Basso of the future would tread a lighter gear.

The year 2002 started well for Basso; helping Petacchi to three victories in a row at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and taking second place in the overall, only narrowly losing out to Alex Zülle on the time trial. It was followed by an impressive ride at Liege-Bastogne-Liege to finish third behind the Mapei teammates Garzelli and Bettini, whose combined strength the young Basso could not overcome.

The Tour 2002 would be the test of Basso’s new pedalling technique. On the first mountain stage, stage 11 to La Mongie, Basso found himself flying beside the likes of Armstrong, Beloki, and Heras. Four kilometers from the summit he put in a strong attack. The attack was too early and too hard, and Basso had made the mistake of going into too high a gear. The blue train swept past him and though seventh place on the stage was a fine result, it was perhaps less than it could have been. Basso took notice, and a few days later on the epic Mont Ventoux stage he climbed the summit among the best, dropping even GC favorites like Beloki in an impressive display of climbing (although Armstrong was, as usual, flying to take the win), and sealing his hold on the white jersey. After the win, Basso was cited to have said:

“I thought Ventoux would be hell, but for me it was paradise.”

Basso would continue to climb alongside the best during the rest of the Tour, clinching an 11th placing in the GC, and taking the white jersey for the best young rider.

As usual, the close of the season saw Ivan Basso riding strong at the Giro dell’Emilia. Forming the winning break together with team mate Michelle Bartoli and Michael Rasmussen (then of CSC-Tiscali), Bartoli and Basso pulled off a perfect one-two for the team to take first (Bartoli) and second (Basso). The close of the season also offered additional impressive rides with several Top-10 finishes and a respectable 15th place in the Giro di Lombardia while helping team mate Bartoli to the victory in the race of falling leaves.

By 2003, it was clear to most of the world that in Ivan Basso, Italy had a future Tour star. But it was also becoming clear that it was not going to be on the Fassa Bortolo team that he would fulfill that ambition. Despite Basso helping the team to the top of the rankings for the second time in a row in 2002, Giancarlo Ferretti expressed dissappointment with his young star in the run-up to the 2003 season for not winning any victories in the previous season. And with the team increasingly being shaped around the meteoric rise of Sprint King Alessandro Petacchi as the year wore on, it was becoming increasingly clear that Fassa Bortolo was the wrong team for Ivan Basso. The spectacular, aggressively riding cyclist of Basso’s early years, had dissappeared, his natural intuition and instinct stiffled by the iron discipline of his team.

Basso started out the year quietly as he focused all of his build-up on the Tour, his only result of note being a Top-10 finish in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He arrived at the Tour with almost no media attention, and rode through it the same way, apart from rumors placing him in negotiations with US Postal. With Petacchi riding spectacularly on his way to the record books, Basso started out in the shadow of his teammates successes. And things would not get easier; after puncturing on the first mountain stage and expending needless strength to recover, two thirds of the Fassa Bortolo squad (including Petacchi) abandoned on the first few mountain stages. Basso would finish the race with only one teammate, and in the absence of any support he would ride a defensive race. So anonymous was his ride in the Tour, that almost no one noticed that - apart from the classic Ventoux stage where Armstrong sealed his fifth victory - Basso lost only a few seconds in the mountains against Lance Armstrong. His ride earned him seventh place; the time trials costing him nine of the ten minutes that he would lose to Armstrong in the overall.

Basso would ride strong at the Classica San Sebastian to take second behind Bettini, the only podium spot in a lackluster season. The Basso who had won the World Championship of 1998, blistered the pack with ferocious attacks in 2001, and considered “almost too aggressive” seemed to have dissappeared - and so had the victories. Things were about to take a turn though; that September, after long and hard deliberations, Ivan Basso signed with the Team CSC of former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis.

“I told myself: ‘Now you are going to do exactly what you want to do. You’re going to choose the team you want to ride for, the coach you want, and the race and training programmes you want.’ Fortunately Bjarne was loking for a new team leader for the Tour de France, and after just a few meetings with him, I knew he was the right person to help me rediscover myself.”

At Team CSC

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 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.

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 Klöden. 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.

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