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It was a game of hot potato as seven of the top favorites lined up for a press conference ahead of Saturday’s start of the 93rd Giro d’Italia.
No one wanted to stake their claim as the man to beat and each of them was quick to point to everyone else as the pre-race candidate to win the pink jersey when the Giro ends in Verona on May 30.
Reigning world champion Cadel Evans (BMC), who will start with the No. 1 bib, said he doesn’t like that kind of attention.
“I’ve been the favorite before, but that worked out pretty good for Carlos,” Evans joked, referring to the 2008 Tour de France won by Carlos Sastre. “I hope to improve on last year’s Vuelta and two times second in the Tour, but these are the guys who I have to beat. Vinokourov is back at his best and I see him as one of the least talked-about favorites.”
The absence of last year’s winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) means it’s a wide-open Giro, yet no one was willingly to publicly stake their claim and step into the void.
In fact, the entire top-3 from last year’s Giro is not in Amsterdam. Menchov is bypassing the Giro, Danilo Di Luca tested positive for CERA and Franco Pellizotti was recently sidelined by the biological passport controls.
On paper, that would make Cervélo’s Sastre, fourth last year with two stage victories, as the top favorite, but the Spanish climber comes into the Giro with racing only eight days since the end of the 2009 Tour de France, and openly admits he’s not sure how his legs will hold up in the decisive third week.
“I don’t know if that makes me the top favorite. Every year is different. It was my decision to race only a few days this year. I have prepared quietly at home, so perhaps I am missing the edge that comes with racing a lot before a big tour,” Sastre said. “I think the final week will be the most important, so I hope to ride into my peak form at the right moment.”
What about Ivan Basso, the winner of the 2006 Giro? He danced as well when asked if he was the favorite.
“I’ve worked very hard for this Giro, but my condition is not where I expected it to be,” said Basso, perhaps to take pressure off himself. “I hope to try to win the Giro, but perhaps I can aim for second or third. To win a mountain stage again would be beautiful. There are others who are strong at the moment.”
All eyes turned to Alexander Vinokourov (Astana). Hot off his victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Vinokourov was quick to downplay his chances.
“You cannot compare Liège to the Giro,” he said. “My legs are good, but the climbs in the final week are perhaps too difficult for me. I would love to win a stage or maybe take the pink jersey.”
That refrain was repeated by three other former Giro winners who all but admit they’re past their prime.
2000 Giro winner Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone) said his top goal is to win his first Giro stage since 2007 while 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre) echoed that hope.
“Above all, I want to be a protagonist,” said Cunego. “It’s a very hard Giro this year, and the final week features very hard climbs. My aim is to win a mountain stage.”
That left Gilberto Simoni (Lampre), Giro winner in 2001 and 2003, who says this will be his final Giro.
“Sure, I have 1,000 intentions of winning this Giro, but I feel like I cannot be compared to the top favorites,” he said. “This is my last Giro so I want to make something beautiful. I simply want to be myself and go on the attack.”
Perhaps that’s just what it will take to win this Giro – attack when everyone else is watching what the others will do.