Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov are two great riders who are outside contenders to win the Centenary Giro d'Italia. On the first rest day of this twenty-one day battle across Bella Italia, Cyclingnews had the opportunity to ask these men one-on-one about their chances of reaching the top step in Rome.
Sastre: "I have the opportunity to win the Giro"
Contrary to what has been said before, Carlos Sastre has come to the 92nd Giro d'Italia to win. The man who stands before me is frequently described as friendly, but it is clear he is no pushover. His eye contact is strong, his handshake very firm, and his words well chosen.
It sends a message of capability; a man who knows what he wants and knows how to get it. He came to the race ready for a challenging first week, and emerged on the first rest day still within striking distance of maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca.
"When I decided the race the Giro d'Italia and I saw the course, I knew that I had to be good condition in the beginning," he says.
"Of course, it wasn't easy being on the wheels of these guys. But I was there, I think I was a factor, and it showed on GC. I didn't lose too much time, and I think I'll be there for the next couple of weeks," says Sastre.
The 34-year-old Sastre sits seventh, 1:24 behind Di Luca, and as it stands, the top ten riders on the classifica generale are separated by a shade under two minutes. The Madrid native says he hasn't done anything surprising yet, but what about the performances of those who have, namely Columbia-Highroad's Thomas Lövkvist and Di Luca himself, who hasn't raced a Grand Tour since his win at the 2007 Giro?
"I will fight for everything because I have the opportunity to win the Giro d'Italia."
-Carlos Sastre explains that he is here to win the Giro.
"Thomas is a really good rider. I think he'll be at a good level at the end, but maybe he started the season too early. Maybe he'll pay afterwards," cautions Sastre of the Swedish revelation.
"[Michael] Rogers, he has the [Stage 12] time trial Thursday, and I think he's focused on the time trial. I think Lövkvist is riding better than Rogers, but the two of them together, they can be a good card."
But Di Luca – why is this man from Abruzzo riding so strong, seemingly at a level above the rest?
"For [his team] LPR, it is the only opportunity of the whole year – they can not go to the Tour de France, they cannot go to other [important] races outside of Italy," Sastre says. "[For them], everything is in this moment."
Thursday's Cinque Terre time trial will inevitably shake up the overall classification a bit. While Sastre raced the best time trial of his career in the 2008 Tour de France, where he conceded just 29 seconds to Cadel Evans in the final time trial, he has yet to repeat that type of performance this year in a race against the clock.
Sastre is realistic about his time trialing abilities. "All my results in the Tour de France and other [Grand Tours], I am around fifteenth; sometimes ninth, sometimes tenth. I'm never the first.
"Everybody must remember Carlos Sastre is a climber, not a specialist in the time trial. I can improve my equipment, I can improve my position – I can improve many things – but the time trial will never be my specialty."
Sastre warns that the Stage 12 time trial is a different kettle of fish. He knows this – he's ridden the course.
"We have two mountains, we have two technical descents. It's completely different than a normal time trial; I don't know if I'll be better or not, but it appears to be a different scenario for a climber."
"I will try my best. I will fight for everything because I have the opportunity to win the Giro d'Italia. But I don't spend energy thinking whether I can gain or lose time on these guys."
The fact that Sastre hasn't previewed or ridden the final week's three mountain-top finishes – namely, Stages 16, 17 and 19 – doesn't change things much, he says.
If he has the opportunity, and he senses it, he'll go for it.
"I'm a person that can decide in the moment," Sastre says, those words alluding to his brilliant, spur of the moment, race-winning attack on the lower slopes of Alpe d'Huez in the 2008 Tour.