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by Shane Stokes
October 6, 2015
Photography by Gio Auletta/Pentaphoto RCS Sport
He still had a year left to run on his Tinkoff-Saxo contract but, after a brush with cancer this season, Ivan Basso has taken the decision to hang up his wheels.
The Italian rider announced his decision at the 2016 route presentation for the Giro d’Italia, a race he won in 2006 and again in 2010.
Questions were raised about his future in the sport when he announced on July 13 that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had crashed on stage five of the Tour de France, hitting his groin area, and when the pain from this didn’t abate he underwent a scan in the Tour’s mobile medical unit on July 12.
The results of that pointed towards the need for a further investigation and the following day he was assessed in Pau, the location of the Tour de France’s first rest day.
He learned that he had a tumour, retired from the Tour and immediately travelled back to Italy. Two days later he underwent surgery and the affected testicle was removed.
Follow up checks confirmed that no further treatment was needed but after weighing things up with his family and his team, he took the decision not to return to racing.
“Every athlete knows that his light will not shine bright throughout his career. Inevitably, at some stage it will start dimming and it’s the sign of a wise athlete to know when the moment has come to turn it off,” he said on Monday.
His cancer diagnosis and treatment was part of his reason for assessing his future in the sport but, he admits, he was also not satisfied with the level he was at this season.
“When I joined Tinkoff-Saxo, one of the world’s best teams, my goal was to add value to the top squad they already had, otherwise it wouldn’t have made any sense,” he explained. “Even if my role is to be a super domestique, I have to perform at the highest level. When we take part in the most important race of the year, I have to be an asset to the team, not a liability.”
While he supported Alberto Contador en route to the Spaniard’s victory in the Giro, Basso is frank that he wasn’t at the level he wanted this year.
“I have no reason to betray my fans and all the people that believed in me all these years. I could have continued racing but I wouldn’t be competitive. I could take part in a race but then struggle to finish.
“There is no point in letting my fans down and, when adrenaline is replaced by fear, then it’s time to change.”
Basso turned professional in 1999 and with the exception of a period of time when he was suspended due to his links with Operacion Puerto, has been a pro since then.
He raced with the Riso Scotti, Fassa Bortolo, CSC, Discovery Channel, Liquigas and Tinkoff-Saxo squad, taking those two editions of the Giro d’Italia and also winning the Tour of Denmark, the Critierum International, the Giro del Trentino, the Giro di Padania, the Giro dell’Emilia and the Japan Cup.
He was also second and third in the Tour de France behind Lance Armstrong. Although Armstrong was subsequently disqualified, Basso didn’t move up a place as the UCI decided to leave those vacated slots unfilled.
While he is retiring his involvement in the sport will continue; his Tinkoff-Saxo team has said that he will fill what it termed a newly-created position in the squad ‘that will combine managerial and technical aspects and will work in close collaboration with Managing Director, Stefano Feltrin, and Head Sport Director, Steven de Jongh.’
Details of that will be confirmed in the weeks ahead. He said that this possibility makes his acceptance of retirement easier.
“I don’t regret putting an end to my racing career,” he said. “Cycling is a passion that runs in my family and I feel extremely lucky I have a team that believes in me and gives me this opportunity to start this new endeavour without practically stopping.
“I look forward to working closely with the team management, its sport directors and all the riders. I’d like to also thank the owner of the team, Oleg Tinkov, who makes all this possible driven by his profound passion for the sport of cycling.”