Sometimes we take decision making for granted. Modern life dictates that we make so many each day that complacency can kick in. But every now and then life throws its wares at us, leaving us with the only option of deciding how we react.
One of the hardest transitions in a professional athlete’s life is having to disconnect heart, body and mind and try to objectively make the decision to call it a day.
Ivan Basso, twice Giro d’Italia winner, has had his own experience of having to decide how to react. Dealing with testicular cancer which prematurely forced him out of the 2015 Tour de France on stage five whilst riding for team Tinkoff; it was then he made the decision to react with optimism.
Now three years after his retirement and taking on directeur sportif roles at WorldTour teams Tinkoff and Trek Segafredo, he’s now turned his managerial touch to helping Alberto Contador with the development squad Polatec-Kometa Continental. Ahead of his appearance at this year’s Rouleur Classic we spoke with Basso about his team’s debut season and how retiring from professional racing has been for him.
Rouleur: How do you feel Polatec-Kometa Continental’s first season has gone?
Ivan Basso: It’s been a spectacular start, with us satisfying the goals that we set ourselves. It has brought us a lot of joy seeing one of our athletes, Matteo Moschetti, jump up to the WorldTour team, Trek-Segafredo. Our project is still a startup, but that’s a real reward.
What have you enjoyed about managing the team this season?
The connection of the team on a human level is absolutely wonderful. When you say ‘management’ it feels too bureaucratic; I know that the position carries a lot of responsibility, and it can be quite political, but the atmosphere is incredible and this is what I like most.
Had team management always been something you were interested in before retiring from pro-cycling?
I have always been interested in how it works behind the scenes, interacting with the technical side and equipment. Cycling is my life and I love it from all points of view. When I retired from competition, I always had it clear in my mind that it didn’t mean having to renounce the cycling world. I knew I wanted to stay in it.
What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned this season from managing a team?
There’s nothing that I’ve not seen before. During my athletic career I enjoyed seeing how the team worked in all its breadth. A cycling team is a network of complexities. The gear, the calendar, the travel, the athletes, the commitments with the sponsors and other institutional events, the media, the public relations…it goes on and on.
How do you want to grow the team and the ethos behind it?
It’s a different type of sport project, because results are not a priority. Winning is very difficult so we focus on being active within the race, to work as a group. We look at working in collaboration with sports facilities and look to other teams with more experience than us, so the riders can learn.
Commitment and attitude are key. If they deliver victories -like Matteo Moschetti- then that’s an advantage. He won in Hungary and Burgos. The team also train regularly with the Trek-Segafredo guys and that helps.
We are really excited about the improvements we’re seeing; we work with very young cyclists and see Polartec-Kometa as an integral project committed to training and realising the ambition of the young riders of the future. We want to help them grow into professional cycling.
How has the transition from racing to retirement been for you?
Like a transition of weight between the pedals. The bicycle will always have a presence in my daily life. I no longer have the obligation to train which means I’m enjoying a more playful time on the bike. I can actually now take pleasure in the landscapes I ride in. The rides that I do as an ambassador for Trek-Segafredo are an opportunity to cycle from another perspective. Riding in Valtellina, for example, the Stelvio, the Gavia: I rode them several times when I was competing but this time when I ride them I’m having fun.
Has it been harder than you thought it was going to be?
No. Cycling has been my world for so many years, it was just a matter of being on the other side.
What have you done to help yourself through the retirement process? What’s been your focus?
To never stop riding the bike. The frequency is obviously lower because I don’t have to follow a training programme anymore, but it’s good to never lose the habit.
Was being diagnosed with cancer something that made you take the decision to retire?
It’s possible that in some way it influenced the evolution of the process. But after seventeen cycling seasons and at 37 years of age, I think that was more influential in my decision.
What were the emotions and thoughts when you were diagnosed?
It is not easy news to digest. But from the first moment I found out, I realised I had the support and affection of not only my family, but of the sports world, and the world in general. It was comforting and helped push me to be positive when faced with that type of adversity. It has a huge influence on my attitude. Optimism also comes easier when you’re involved in projects and work for the sport you love…
Like my brother Alberto Contador says, “Querer es Poder” [Where there’s a will, there’s a way].
Ivan Basso will be joining us on stage at the Rouleur Classic on Friday 2nd November. Tickets are still available to buy.