NAPLES, Italy, May 03, 2013 (AFP) – Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins
on Thursday singled out Vincenzo Nibali as his main rival for the Giro
d’Italia crown but said the battle for the race’s pink jersey could be wide
Wiggins comes into the three-week race, which begins Saturday in Naples, as
a huge favourite given his comprehensive and historic yellow jersey triumph in
2012, when he finished ahead of British teammate Chris Froome.
Barely a year on, Wiggins has made the Giro’s ‘maglia rosa’ his primary
objective as debate rages about who will be Team Sky’s leader – Wiggins or
Froome – at cycling’s biggest showpiece in July.
Despite a quality field including defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of
Canada, Australian Cadel Evans and Michele Scarponi of Italy, Wiggins believes
Nibali — known as ‘The Shark’ for his often incisive attacking moves — is
his biggest threat.
“Everyone here has been up there when it comes to the Grand Tours,” Wiggins
told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t know how many of them have won a Grand
Tour – most of them have been on the podium – so every one is tried and tested
and they’re ready for this race.”
Nibali won the Tour of Spain in 2010, was third at last year’s Tour de
France and has twice finished on the podium at his home race.
Asked about Nibali being the main threat, Wiggins added: “You’d say that on
paper. For me he’s the favourite, he’s the one we’ve all got to beat. You
never underestimate anyone in cycling.”
Former Tour de France champion Evans made light of the fact he was not
among a bookmakers’ top three of Wiggins, Nibali and Hesjedal.
“The bookmakers put him (Wiggins) as the number one favourite, if that’s an
indication in the minds of everyone then he’s the guy to beat. But we’ll see
out on the road,” said the Australian.
Evans, who made his Grand Tour debut on the Giro in 2002 and came close to
winning the race, added: “It’s only been a short period I knew I was doing the
Giro, but I’ve been working hard to prepare myself the best I can and we’ll
see after the next three weeks.”
Hesjedal, who claimed his first major Tour on the race last year, said
Wiggins’s presence will not steer him off course for his main aim this season.
“To be able to win the Giro motivates you beyond belief,” said the Garmin
“I’ve been fixated on getting into the best shape possible for the race.
Obviously it’s different coming back as the champion but I’m enjoying the
experience and I have the confidence.”
Stretching the length of Italy, the 96th edition will be held over roughly
3400 kilometres and features three time trials (one team, two individual) and
several mountain stages, including a potential race decider on the 20th and
penultimate stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Although Wiggins’s Sky team could potentially distance their rivals early
on Sunday’s 17.4km stage two team time trial on the island of Ischia, the
first individual time trial over 54.8km on stage eight is potentially more
enticing, although Wiggins himself claimed it wouldn’t be decisive.
Saturday’s opening stage starts and finishes in Naples, which last hosted a
stage finish in 1996 when sprinter Mario Cipollini prevailed.
Tipped to dominate several of the flatter stages, British sprint king Mark
Cavendish of the Omega-Pharma team is hoping to get his race off to a winning
start, despite ongoing question marks over his ‘sprint-train’.
While racing for Team Sky last year, it proved a lot more efficient but the
Isle of Man rider defended his new outfit.
“We’ve come here with a strong team to the Giro,” he said. “We’ve got a
really good mix, a strong lead-out, we’ve got Matteo Trentin back after his
scaphoid injury so I’m confident we can do a good job here.”