It was shaping up to be “just another rest day” on the Tour de France, but this is Pau and it’s also part of the routine that news breaks on the repos when the race is in town. This time around, the big story is not about doping, rather the surprise news that Ivan Basso has been forced to leave the Tour, effective immediately.
A diagnosis for testicular cancer is a shock to anyone who receives that news and the cycling community is only too aware of the ramifications; it struck one of the biggest names in our sport in 1997 and today it is Basso who is affected.
The Italian was caught up in a tangle of bikes in stage five but insists it was a “really small crash” even if he later complained of a sore testicle which he said he “hit on the saddle”. Thinking it was little more than an effect of the accident, he rode on unaware – and not believing – that it was anything more sinister.
Like the rest of the peloton, he took the air transfer to Pau after the team time trial yesterday but he woke to news that he wasn’t expecting. The pain was there for a reason; tests revealed cancer of the left testicle.
At lunch, he told his team-mates and shortly afterwards he joined Alberto Contador who was due to hold the obligatory rest day press conference. Just after lunch, Basso explained that he would “normally not be here”, that it should have been a gathering just for the team leader, but also that he had a “bad announcement”.
Calm and collected, he spoke of the diagnosis and how he would leave the race immediately and return to Italy to begin treatment. He wished his team-mates well and said how he wants to “give support to our Captain [Contador] who I hope will be in yellow in Paris”.
He thanked his team for its support of him and also the Tour organisers’ medical staff and concluded: “that’s it”.
And with that, he stood and walked out of the Mercure Hotel on the outskirts of Pau, stepped into a team car and set off, away from cycling for the time being and onward to a hospital.
The accident was indeed trivial and it’s unlikely that it had actually caused the pain he complained of. He may have copped a knock to the crutch and it may have exacerbated what was already happening to his body. But what it also did was prompt further examination and found something that affects many around the world.
At the team hotel in the afternoon on the sort of day when I’d ordinarily catch up with Michael Rogers the mood was odd. Team staff were trying to do the jobs that needed doing but also consoling one another as the news filtered around the room. Some had just arrived after the long transfer from Brittany, others had had time to absorb the news but no one was able to come to terms with it.
Rogers, the team-mate and long-time friend of Basso was on the massage table. When we spoke, he asked how my Tour was going and I did likewise. He answered: “It’s all good… expect, of course, for today’s news.” Generally Rogers is very candid and open about all topics of discussion but today he kindly declined to comment on how he felt “out of respect for Ivan”.
Basso’s appearance at the press conference was an impromptu one that allowed him to explain all he knew and what he planned to do and, as he said, “that’s it”.
From Pau he goes home to find out what comes next. It’s early days, it’s shocking news, it marks the departure of the rider who was the runner-up in this race 10 years ago.
The atmosphere in the hotel was akin to other places where the news had hit: surprise and general air of hope that Ivan Basso will be okay. He found the cancer by accident and now the work begins to treat it.
– By Rob Arnold