Giro d’Italia: The main contenders speak at pre-race press conference
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Giro d’Italia: The main contenders speak at pre-race press conference

by Ben Atkins at 1:40 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia
Michele Scarponi presented with maglia rosa for 2011 victory

giro dTwo days before the race is due to start, the main contenders for the Giro d’Italia spoke at a press conference at the MCH Herning Kongrescenter. Present were Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) - the new winner of the 2011 edition after the retrospective suspension of Alberto Contador - two-time winner Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), French hope John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale), 2011 best young rider Roman Kreuziger (Astana), Luxembourg champion Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), and Flèche Wallonne winner Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), along with 2010 World champion Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing).

The race will start on Saturday with an 8.7km time trial in Herning, then take in tow further flat stages in Denmark, before transferring to Italy on Tuesday - the race’s first rest day - in time for a team time trial on Wednesday.

With most of the contenders experiencing inconsistent - or unlucky - spring campaigns, there is no outstanding favourite for the Corsa Rosa this year.

“There are a lot of favourites this year, who all have an equal chance of victory or to climb on the podium,” said Scarponi. “This will affect the first part of the race; it’ll be more difficult to control. My form is good and will improve.

“Damiano Cunego is not a rival within the Lampre-ISD team,” he added, referring to the 2004 winner, who will have a free role in the race. “We’ll have a tactical advantage on the other riders.”

Following the press conference, Scarponi was presented with the the pink jersey for his 2011 victory.

Basso’s spring campaign was arguably the most disrupted of the race favourites, with falls in Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya following a bout of ‘flu in the early races. After safely negotiating the Giro del Trentino and Tour de Romandie however, the 2006 and 2010 winner feels ready to join the list of three-time winners.

“Two crashes cost me two weeks of important racing early in the season but I’ve done a lot more work in the last 40 days,” he explained. “I’m 34 and I’ve got to trust my experience. We’ll see stage by stage but I’m confident I can fight for success with the best riders in the race.

“My team is ready and we all trust each other,” he continued. “That’s how it has to be to ensure we are a strong team right from the start. Then we’ll see what happens in the race.”

Gadret has always performed well at the Giro, but last year surprised many by finishing fourth, having won a stage. Contador’s disqualification has made him the first Frenchman to make a Grand Tour podium since 1997, and he hopes to at least match that this time.

“I wasn’t a favourite last year but I proved what I could do,” he said. “I‘ll try and do the same thing, if not even better. The last week of the route is very difficult, all the stages are tough. But it’s the riders who make the race. Though I think the Stelvio will decide this year’s winner.”

Some riders’ road to the Giro has been better than others’

Rodriguez has arguably had the best spring of all the contenders, with stage wins in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco - where he finished second overall - capped with his finally taking victory in la Flèche Wallonne.

“In Spain they say I’m the biggest favourite to win the Giro for several years,” said the Catalan. “I don’t think there’s one big favourite in the race. There are a lot of riders who can win the Giro, including some who could cause a surprise. The last week will be tough and will decide the race.

Although Rodríguez realises that the mountains of Italy will be the crucial part of the race, he is one rider that is not taking the flatlands of the Danish Jutland peninsular for granted.

“The problem here in Denmark will be the wind,” he said. “I don’t like it but I’m not worried about it.”

Kreuziger won the race’s white jersey last year and his team manager Giuseppe Martinelli feels that the Czech - who will celebrate his 26th birthday on the second day of the race - has what it takes to step up to the pink one.

“I think I’m going well; I’ve stepped up every year since 2008,” said Kreuziger. “I haven’t won a Grand Tour but I’m confident that I’m progressing. My season is going well. I had a good Tirreno-Adriatico, Giro del Trentino and Tour de Romandie.

“We’ll see if it’s my year.”

One of the great unknowns going into the race will Fränk Schleck, who was only called into the RadioShack-Nissan team at the end of last week, after a knee injury forced the withdrawal of Jakob Fuglsang. The Luxembourg champion has not prepared specifically for the race, nor has he ridden a Grand Tour purely for himself since he was overtaken by younger brother Andy in 2009, but this could work in his favour.
“I was at the playground with my daughter when I got the call and was asked to ride the Giro d’Italia,” he explained. “It was a shock but then I looked at the race route and realised it’s a good opportunity for me.

“I’m happy to be here,” he added. “I had some time off the bike after the classics and in the first week it’ll be important to find my form; but least I’m fresh.”

Despite not being a contender for the overall title, Hushovd was present at the press conference as he is one of many sprinters that is hoping to excel in the race’s flat stages. The 2010 World champion also has a history of time trial success, including the 2006 Tour de France prologue, and so could be a possible winner on the punchy course around Herning on Saturday.

“My season hasn’t gone as I hoped so far,” admitted Hushovd, who crashed in Paris-Roubaix, his biggest target, which put him out of contention. “I was sick at Milano-Sanremo, crashed at Paris-Roubaix and lost the race. I’m motivated to do well at the Giro d’Italia and want get a first win wearing a BMC jersey.

“I’m especially looking forward to the opening stages in Denmark,” added the Norwegian. “It’s like racing at home for me.”


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