A new arrival in the UCI ProTeams category this year and new to the Giro d’Italia as well, on all counts the Eolo-Kometa team is a rookie participant in the Italian Grand Tour this May and, given they’ve already visited the podium, the squad is performing above expectations in their biggest sporting challenge to date.
“We’re getting there,” Ivan Basso, himself a double Giro d’Italia winner and who runs the Italian-registered team jointly with Spanish star Alberto Contador and Contador’s brother, Fran, told Cyclingnews on Monday morning.
“Things are going better than we’ve expected. We’ve been very close to winning one stage and we have always been in the important breaks. So we’re very pleased with the team’s performance up to now.”
Their win tally, both for the 2021 season in general and for the Giro in particular, remains stubbornly set on zero for now, though, and perhaps with that in mind, Basso said that “to call our performance as outstanding would be too generous a description.
“But what I most like about what we’re doing here is Eolo-Kometa is gaining in character. It’s well-known and respected, now and we’re racing with a top team’s attitude.”
Warming to his point, Basso explains, “A team can win a race because it has the strongest rider, which isn’t our case, or because you get lucky, which hasn’t been our case, either. Or you can do it through using the right methodology: riding well, helping each other and using good strategies to try and get into the action. That’s what we have done up to now.”
Holding the King of the Mountains jersey with Vincenzo Albanese early on in the Giro for a few days was instrumental for Eolo-Kometa kicking off their race with heightened collective morale, Basso said.
But the biggest downside has undoubtedly been that Manuel Belletti, the team’s veteran sprinter, had to abandon on stage 6 after a bad crash.
“He’d just got over this injuries from a crash in Tirreno-Adriatico, but then he fell and was injured exactly where he’d been hurt before, and there was nothing we could do,” Basso said. “It’s a pity because this is his last Giro d’Italia and on top of that, he’d got a good result the day before,” placing ninth in the sprint at Termoli.
There was also the disappointment of a runner-up spot for Eolo-Kometa’s Francesco Gavazzi, after the Italian veteran’s counter-attack behind Victor Lafay (Cofidis) on the fourth category Guardia Sanframondi final climb on stage 8 culminated in Gavazzi taking second behind the Frenchman.
Basso refused to play down Lafay’s strong performance, though. “The Cofidis rider was very strong and he won by 35 seconds. There’s no way you can argue with a gap like that. Gavva was going well, but there will be other stages and other opportunities.”
Indeed on stage 10, shortly after Basso had been interviewed, young Italian Samuele Rivi, taking part in his first Giro, was in a five-man break of the day. And both Edward Ravasi and Lorenzo Fortunato were on the attack on the sterrato stage to Campo Felice. It’s not only the Italians on Eolo-Kometa who are performing well, either, with Briton Mark Christian in on a move to Termoli on stage 5.
“I’m sure Mark will get some good results, but we have to let him find his way, and no doubt that both he and team will show their true value in the days to come,” said Basso.
He refuses to limit the team’s targets in the Giro.
“A manager should never be happy with one victory, or two, or three. You have to be hungry to win every day. Sometimes I’m hoping for too much, but I’m very lucky to have directors on the race to help keep me my feet on the ground,” said Basso, referring to the hugely experienced Sean Yates, formerly of Sky and Discovery, and Stefano Zanatta, previously with Liquigas.
Speaking of future plans, Basso has denied the somewhat outlandish rumour circulating on the Internet that Eolo-Kometa is interested in signing Peter Sagan, his former teammate in the Tinkoff-Saxo squad, for 2022. “He’s a good friend, but his salary is twice that of my entire team budget,” he told Cyclingnews with a laugh.
“That said, there will be some interesting signings by the team for 2022. This Giro is making us even more ambitious about our plans for next year.”
Another former teammate of Basso’s, Alberto Contador, meanwhile is hoping to get to the Giro d’Italia next week as a visitor, both to show support for the squad he runs jointly with Basso and Fran Contador, and simultaneously to attend a parallel event held by the team’s bike sponsor, Aurum.
Contador has been ill earlier this year with COVID-19 but he recently announced via social media that he is now back to full health. His illness, in any case, hasn’t prevented Contador from being kept up to date on Eolo-Kometa during the Giro.
“We’re in touch three or four times a day,” Basso said. “He’s closely following the team and seeing how they get on. He won’t be inside the team bubble, of course, but hopefully he’ll make it here next week to see on the ground how we’re getting on and progressing.”