Tour de France 2010: Can Ivan Basso Pull Off a Double?

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In all the focus over Lance’s final Tour de France and the odds-on favorite, Alberto Contador, to repeat, one big potential headliner has been overlooked so far.

Ivan Basso could become one of only a handful of cyclists, and the first since 1998, to win both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia in the same season.

Ivan Basso: The smilin' Italian

It would be quite a feat under any circumstance — but particularly in the 21st Century. Few riders even compete in both Grand Tours any more. The most famous Tour winner of all time, Lance Armstrong, has never won the Giro and didn’t even bother with it during his 7-win run. He finished 12th last year, his only Giro.

The last rider to win a double was Italian Marco “The Pirate” Pantani, in 1998. Miguel “Big Mig” Indurain did it twice, with the added distinction of back-to-back, in 1992 and 1993. Bernard “The Badger” Hinault also did it twice but not back to back, in 1982 and 1985.

Greg “LeMondster” LeMond never did it, although he prevented Laurent “The Professor” Fignon by doing it in 1989 with his legendary 8-second win over the Frenchman (and could have prevented Hinault as well in 1985, when LeMond did the devil’s handshake and let Hinault win the Tour). Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx did it a record three times, but never back to back, in 1970, 1972 and 1974. Fausto Coppi did it in 1949 and 1952 and Jacques Anquetil once, in 1964. Irishman Stephen Roche also won a double once, in 1987.

It’s commonly thought that competing in both Grand Tours places too much stress on a cyclist, risking fatigue and injury heading from May’s Giro into July’s Tour. That and the heightened cachet of the Tour over the Giro (which may be changing; this year’s Giro was a whale of a race and drew daily live coverage in the U.S. for the first time) left top-drawer riders wanting to focus on the Tour.

A Tour win this year would elevate Basso, the cherub-faced Italian whose signature out-of-the-saddle climbing style is underlined by an almost beatific smile (or would that be a grimace?), to the rarefied ranks of “Grand Slam” cyclists. One thing already in his favor — he has a nickname, “Ivan the Terrible.”

It’s just another sub-context of intrigue salting this year’s Tour de France drama.

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