On the eve of the 97th Giro d'Italia which begins in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Friday, the favourites for the maglia rosa were all present at Wednesday's pre-race press conference held at the Belfast City Hall.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Cadel Evans (BMC), Michele Scarponi (Astana), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Nico Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) attended one press conference while the sprinters of this year's Giro, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), attended another before tomorrow's 21.7km team time trial around Belfast which starts at the Titantic Museum.
At the press conference, race-favourite Quintana stated it would be an open Giro. "The keys to the route? In Ireland, there's already one to worry about, and that's not to lose the Giro here. Then we can try and open up the gaps in the high mountain stages when the race gets back to Italy," Quintana said.
"It's a very open race, and luck will be as big a factor as ever. There are climbers, too, who haven't been present here [in the opening press conference] and for sure they're going to do it well, too."
For Evans, his season is about the Giro and has fond memories of the Italian grand tour. "For me on a personal level, the Giro was the first grand tour that I did back in 2002 and now on a professional level, the team wants me to do the Giro and not the Tour, so obviously here I am at the Giro," Evans said.
"But on a personal level, that’s fine for me. I'm lucky that things came together in at least one of my Tours. I don't know if I'll race the Tour again but regardless of whether I do or not, I leave it reasonably satisfied and now I'm putting my energy into the Giro."
With three podium places in his last four grand tours, Rodriguez knows "it's about time" he won one. "I know I have to take this race on the day by day, but if there’s one thing I've learned is that you don’t give away a single second.
"You've got to remember that 16 seconds are enough to lose the race and you may not even know why. I lost it all in the Vuelta  that year on a day when it was least expected." Rodriguez said.
"I wish it was just a fight between two riders" - Rodriguez and Quintana being the most named as favourites for overall success - "but in fact it’s going to be a very open race.
"The big difference between this year and 2012, the last time I raced, is the time trialling. In 2012, the last time trial was completely flat. This time, both of the time trials are much harder. It's better for me, but it’s better for the out-and-out climbers, too."
Can Rodriguez finally net the Grand Tour that has eluded him for the last 14 years? "I hope so, I hope so," Rodriguez told Cyclingnews. "It's about time. But you know that two and two never equal four in this sport, at one race you can have the best form in the world and the best route for you in the world and lose it, and another day you can think you're in really bad shape and that there’s no way you can succeed and you win."
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