Blazin' Saddles

Don’t mess with Zoncolan

Blazin' Saddles

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Two men with two differing styles but with the same trainer fought teeth and nail up the unforgiving Zoncolan - and while Ivan Basso emerged victorious on Sunday, his rival Cadel Evans pulled off a gutsy second place to limit his losses.

Watching Basso and Evans play cat and mouse up the 10km climb (with an average gradient of almost 12 per cent including some horrific 20 per cent segments) was in a way like witnessing a battle between a 'have' and a 'have not'.

Basso was at his imperious best en route to winning his first stage on the Giro since his overall win in 2006 - but the way in which his Liquigas team ripped the field apart on the Passa Duron, the Sella Valcalda and the nursery slopes of the Zoncolan was really quite something.

If you boast a full team of sturdy, dependable lieutenants working together just as the former US Postal team did so defiantly in the past, then you're definitely in with a shout.

On top of that, Basso the individual has grit, a true climber's gait, technique in abundance and self-belief. He was, in short, the ultimate rider out there in north Italy. (And to think that only yesterday, Saddles rated team-mate Vincenzo Nibali's GC credentials higher than those of Basso - what was he thinking?)

Evans, on the other hand, is a comparative loner when on a bike. He may be world champion - but even that title was achieved alone and while almost defying his Australian team-mates.

Years at Lotto gave the Australian ample experience of riding without any support, but the sorry demise of his BMC team in this Giro should have wrecked Cuddles's chances of performing to the best of his ability.

As it is, Evans is in with a real shot of winning the race. What's more, there are two individual time trials left to race - a discipline Evans excels at and one, tellingly, for which a strong team bears no importance.

It has to be said, Evans is certainly the most exciting reigning world champion the peloton has seen in recent memory. He is doing the rainbow jersey proud. In fact, it should be the rainbow stripes feeling the honour of Evans' ownership - and not the other way round.

Both Basso and Evans are coached by Aldo Sassi, the legendary Italian trainer currently undergoing treatment for a brain tumour. Sassi has remarked that if either of the two win the Giro, it would be a victory for clean cycling.

If this is what clean cycling is about, then Saddles wants more. This Giro is getting better and better and Sunday's stage was a perfect advertisement for the sport.

The only concern, from a British perspective, is the rum form of Bradley Wiggins. Finishing 104th and over 25 minutes down is hardly what you expect from someone aspiring for a podium finish at the Tour in July. Could 2009 have been a one-off?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "He's here, really? Tell him I said hi. How's he doing?" Dave Zabriskie on being told of Floyd Landis' presence at the Tour of California ITT.

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the Giro and the ongoing Landisgrace on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze.

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