PARIS — Isn’t it heartwarming to see two gifted teammates, one young, the other considerably older, who, instead of turning into rivals, work well together and even like each other?
Down with the LeMond-Hinault confrontation 25 years ago, the Cunego-Simoni duel in 2004 and the Contador-Armstrong nastiness last year. Let harmony reign. Va bene!
That spirit was exemplified Sunday as the Giro d’Italia closed out its three-week run and Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali mounted the final victory podium in the ancient Roman arena in Verona.
Basso, the 32-year-old Italian leader of the Liquigas team from his homeland, stood on the top step in the leader’s pink jersey, champion by 1 minute 51 seconds over David Arroyo, 30, a Spaniard with Caisse d’Épargne. Nibali, 25, another Italian with Liquigas, took third place, 2:37 behind.
Michele Scarponi, an Italian with Acqua & Sapone, came into the stage only one second behind Nibali and had hoped to pass him for the final podium place, but finished fourth overall at 2:50 as Nibali had a speedier race against the clock.
“Vincenzo is the future of Italian cycling,” Basso has said. “He’s a great rider who will win a lot of great races.” In turn, Nibali has praised his leader for his strength and intelligence. Both signed two-year contracts last week to remain with the team and each other.
The final stage, an individual time trial of 15 kilometers, or 9.3 miles, around Verona, was won by Gustav Erik Larsson, a Swede with Saxo Bank. Marco Pinotti, an Italian with HTC, was second, and Alexandre Vinokourov, a Kazakh with Astana, third.
This 93rd Giro traveled 3,430 kilometers from the start in Rotterdam on May 3 and the original field of 198 men, now down to 134 — a common rate of attrition — passed over narrow roads in cold and rainy weather, climbed formidable mountains and came down them at terrifying speeds. On Saturday, despite fears of avalanches, the riders crossed the Passo Gavia, 2,618 meters, or 8,589 feet, up in the Alps, on a road lined with snowbanks several meters high.
But the men on the victory podium after this epic race, perhaps the greatest Grand Tour in years, also followed a few other, and less likely, routes.
Basso returned last season from a two-year suspension on doping charges that he has never admitted despite strong evidence against him. His first year back was disappointing for a rider who won the Giro in 2006 and finished second and third in the Tour de France in 2005 and 2004. Now he is a force again and insists that he is clean.
“Serenity is the key to success,” Basso explained last week.
“There has been a nasty parenthesis,” he continued, meaning his suspension. “I’ve made errors and I’ve paid. What I’m hoping to do now is regain the confidence of those I disappointed.”
Unlike Basso, Arroyo and Nibali both came from relative obscurity.
The Spaniard, never higher than 10th place in previous Grand Tours, arrived at the Giro merely as a team worker, took the pink jersey after his leader crashed out and then held it for nearly a week.
Because of his youth, Nibali has won only minor races, although he was seventh in the last Tour de France. He was scheduled to ride not the Giro but the Tour of California when his Liquigas teammate Franco Pellizotti, second in the Giro last year, was barred from this race because of doping suspicions.
Onto the roster went Nibali, who then distinguished himself with his descending skills, all-around endurance and loyalty to Basso, whom he helped to get up and down climbs.
“It’s rare to see a prodigy of his age sacrifice for an older leader,” Basso has said. “I would be stupid, at almost 33 years old, to treat him like a rival.”
Tell that to Gilberto Simoni, then 32, who feuded throughout the 2004 Giro with his teammate Damiano Cunego, then 22. Amid the acrimony of which Italian would work for the other, Cunego easily won the race as Simoni finished third.
That was then. The tempestuous Simoni, who won the Giro twice and was second once and third four times, was back this year in what he insists is his final race, riding with Cunego for the Lampre team.
“I’m just glad the Giro is over,” Simoni told CyclingNews.com on Saturday. “I’ve had enough now. I’ve been a professional for 17 years and it really is time to quit.”
“I honestly thought I’d go better than I did in this Giro,” he continued, meaning his dismal 68th place. “I knew I couldn’t win it like in 2003 or 2007, but I didn’t expect to suffer so much and for so long during the three weeks.”
He gave it a final shot, trying to win the climb over the Gavia on Saturday and collect both the reward of €5,000, or $6,200, and the glory of being first over the Cima Coppi, the highest spot in the Giro. But he finished second to Johann Tschopp, a Swiss with Bbox, who went on to win the stage.
That was not quite finito for Simoni. As a last bit of flash, he rode the time trial on Sunday wearing a white dress shirt and pink tie under his team jersey.
After he finished far behind with a broad smile, he received an award for his long and distinguished service. Arrivederci and grazie mille, a thousand thanks, the race organizers said, understating the number by at least half.