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89th Giro d'Italia - Team CSC Preview
By Guest Contributor
Date: 5/4/2006
89th Giro d'Italia - Team CSC Preview

89th Giro d'Italia Team CSC Preview
The #1 Pro team takes to the roads of Italy for the Giro with a team second to none with an enviable record of Grand Tour participations. The riders, the Team, the Quest...

By Michael Akinde

Team CSC boss, Bjarne Riis, has always been a man capable of pulling a couple of rabbits out of the hat at opportune times, and this year’s Giro d’Italia squad from the Danish outfit is no exception.

Despite a deluge of injuries in the early season, Team CSC deservedly lead the ProTour competition as the Giro approaches, and it is with a team ideally suited to defending this lead that Ivan Basso (Ita) heads into the 89th Giro d’Italia, where Volodymir Gustov (Ukr), Michael Blaudzun (Dan), Nicki Sörensen (Dan), Inigo Cuesta (Spa), Giovanni Lombardi (Ita), Jens Voigt (Ger), Bobby Julich (USA), and Carlos Sastre (Spa) fill out the team that will support his bid to finally clinch that elusive Grand Tour trophy.

The watch word for Bjarne Riis on selecting this year’s Giro team has very clearly been experience, and it is a team with a massive amount of Grand Tour experience that lines up for this year’s Giro d’Italia for Team CSC. Between them, the nine riders on the team have a grand total of 94 Grand Tours on their palmares. The team is an almost ideal mix of riders to pull on the flat and hilly terrain, engines for the time trial, and support for the high mountains – and every rider on the team is there to support Ivan Basso.

Volodymir Gustov is a newcomer at Team CSC, and was a surprise signing to the team last year. But the Ukrainian is a former teammate of Ivan Basso from Fassa Bortolo, and this – combined with his often demonstrated ethics of hard work in the service of Fassa on the flat stages – is what earned him a spot on Team CSC. His season so far has been completely anonymous, but he also has just one major objective for this early season: to be ready to set the pace for the peloton on the flat stages at the Giro if Basso takes the jersey.

Michael Blaudzun, three times Danish Time-Trial Champion (2001, 2003, and 2005), is one of the riders providing a wealth of experience on the team. Having ridden for Team CSC since 1999, he is a motor for the flat stages and for the team time trial. He is one of only two riders returning again from the Giro team of 2005, where he rode an excellent race in support of Basso, and Riis will be looking for him to put in a similar solid performance for the team this year.

Nicki Sørensen wins Vuelta a Espana stage 18 ahead of Pascual Rodriguez. (c) Tim De Waele

Nicki Sörensen is the second Dane on the Giro team, and one of the most loyal domestiques in the business. Americans may remember him for two incredible rides in 2003: first in April, where he buried himself in the last 20 kms. of the race to bring back the rampant trio of Lance Armstrong, Michele Bartoli and Axel Merkcx in a 12 km long chase to allow his Captain to grab the win; secondly, in July when – wearing the Danish Champions jersey – he sacrificed his own chances of a stage victory by dropping back from the breakaway he was sitting in to bridge his team captain up to the group. The races were Liege-Bastogne-Liege and stage 16 of the Tour into Bayonne – his captain at those races, naturally, Tyler Hamilton.

Small wonder then, that Riis has a special place in his heart for the ever-loyal Sörensen, who took the biggest victory of his career on Stage 18 of the Vuelta Espana last year. Apart from this, his palmares include a Top-20 placing in the Tour de France. Sörensen, who has been a fixture of the Team CSC Tour team since 2001, is unlikely to feature heavily during TV hours, his job being primarily to help control the peloton in the early mountains and hills, but he is a vital cog in the team mechanism if Basso is to succeed in his attempt to win the Giro.

Inigo Cuesta is another newcomer at Team CSC, like Gustov brought in at the behest of an existing rider at the team. The rider in this case is Carlos Sastre, and next to the Giro this year, we should primarily expect to see Cuesta working for Sastre at the Vuelta. Cuesta, like Sörensen, will be looking to assist Basso in the early mountains to control any dangerous breakaways. The oldest rider on the team (by a margin of eighteen days), Cuesta brings in a raft of Grand Tour experience from his time with ONCE and Cofidis, in whose service he has ridden no less than 16 Grand Tours (with two top-20 placings in the Vuelta the result).

Giovanni Lombardi is a favourite subject of message boards everywhere (also here at the Daily Peloton) – not least because Bjarne Riis sees qualities in this rider that many others overlook. This Giro will mark his fourth Grand Tour in a row, and his eight appearance at the Giro d’Italia – a whopping 12 years after he rode his first Giro in 1994! Lombardi has completed each of the seven previous times he has attempted his home Tour, and will be looking to repeat the feat this year to protect Basso on the flat stages. Probably more than anyone else on the team, Lombardi will be hoping to have the honor of leading the peloton on the final stage into Milan with the rider wearing the pink jersey sitting on his wheel.

Jens Voigt is one of three riders coming to this year’s Giro that combines lots of Grand Tour experience, with no previous appearances at the Giro d’Italia. A rider of strong capabilities in all types of terrain, Voigt has this year set aside all of his personal ambitions in the quest of Ivan Basso’s Giro-Tour double. Most often seen at the front of the race driving an early breakaway, Voigt also has the capacity to bury himself at the front of the Peloton for a team leader, almost single-handedly controlling the bunch and reeling in disbelieving attackers.
Think back to the much discussed stage 15 of the Tour de France in 2004, the last stage of Paris-Nice in 2005, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year from the Rossier to La Redoute, and one can easily understand why any team captain would be happy to be flanked by the German “Kraftwerk” when the pressure is on.

Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt share a joke at the Tour of California.
photo c. Andrew Rogers

Bobby Julich is another rider who – like his friend Jens Voigt – had a brilliant year riding for Team CSC in 2005 and who – again like Voigt – has set aside his personal ambitions this year for the purpose of the quest. A third similarity is his lack of previous appearances at the Giro d’Italia, but Julich’s general Grand Tour experience, strong time trialing, and ability to resist in the mountains will naturally be an important support for Basso. He will be going into the prologue looking to try and take the first win and the race lead, and either hold it until after the TTT, or reclaim it there, thus taking some of the pressure off Ivan Basso who would will be looking to the latter stages of the Giro to making his own bid for the pink jersey.

Carlos Sastre Candil’s appearance in the line-up is without a doubt the big surprise of this team. A Team CSC regular for the Tour-Vuelta double, Carlos Sastre was a co-captain for CSC at the Tour until eclipsed by the rise of Basso in 2004. But after a couple of years beset by personal tragedies (two close family members of his died in 2003 and 2004) and injuries, Sastre showed that he is not yet to be discounted as a Grand Tour rider when he came within 18 seconds of what could have been the victory in the Vuelta last year.

Sastre could easily have moved to a team where he would have he undisputed role as captain in both the Tour and the Vuelta at the end of 2005, but instead opted to sign on at Team CSC for one year more. “I have given it a lot of thought and after having spoken to Bjarne and Ivan (Basso) I had no doubts. I want to give something back to the team and I know I can make a difference for Ivan in the last week,” Sastre commented on his decision to ride the Giro. While the decision is a tactically savvy one for CSC, if Sastre then intends to skip the Tour to focus on his own chances in the Vuelta, this appears not to be the case with the team line currently stating Sastre will ride all three Grand Tours this year. Regardless of what happens later, though, his presence in the team is indeed a gift for Basso; as a rider who could himself aspire to place strongly on the GC, Sastre could very well become the decisive rider in turning Basso’s Giro campaign into a success.

Ivan Basso leads the team in the ProTour TTT. Team CSC is touted as the favorite with the presence of Basso, Voigt, Julich, Blaudzun, and Sastre. Photo c. Tim DeWaele

Ivan Basso, obviously, needs no introductions. Everything on this team is centered on him, and his hopes of winning his first Grand Tour. He is universally acknowledged as one of the top favorites on a course which should suit him perfectly. He has been given a team which has to be considered one of the strongest – if not the strongest – in the race. He will be backed by a tactician (Bjarne Riis) who is considered one of the best in the business. His ability is unquestioned; now only one question remains to be answered:

Can Ivan Basso ride and win the Giro d’Italia under pressure as the favorite?

Team CSC - Rider  - D.O.B. - Grand Tours Experience
Volodymir Gustov: Ukraine (15-02-1977) 8 Grand Tours
Tour de France (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)
Giro d’Italia (2005)
Vuelta a Espana (2000, 2003, 2004)

Michael Blaudzun: Denmark (30-04-1973) 5 Grand Tours
Tour de France (2000, 2001, 2003)
Giro d’Italia (2005)
Vuelta a Espana (1998)

Nicki Sörensen: Denmark (14-05-1975) 7 Grand Tours
Tour de France (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005), Vuelta a Espana (2003, 2005)

Inigo Cuesta: Spain (02-06-1969) 18 Grand Tours
Tour de France (1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003)
Giro d'Italia (1999)
Vuelta a Espana (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)

Giovanni Lombardi: Italy (20-06-1969) 18 Grand Tours
Tour de France (1995, 1997, 2005)
Giro d'Italia (1994, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)
Vuelta a Espana (1993, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005)

Jens Voigt: Germany (17-03-1971)  8 Grand Tours
Tour de France (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)

Bobby Julich: USA 18-11-1971 10 Grand Tours
Tour de France (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005)
Vuelta a Espana (1996, 2003)

Carlos Sastre: Spain 22-04-1975 12 Grand Tours
Tour de France (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)
Giro d'Italia (1999, 2002)
Vuelta a Espana (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005)

Ivan Basso: Italian 26-11-1977 8 Grand Tours
Tour de France (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)
Giro d’Italia (1999, 2000, 2005)

The Smiling Assassin - Ivan Basso Part 1
The Smiling Assassin - Ivan Basso Part 2
Jens Voigt Believes in an Ivan Basso Double
Giro d'Italia on here.

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