Michael Rogers has become a favourite for the Giro title, despite preferring to remain a veiled general classification threat, according to one directeur sportif. Roberto Damiani believes that the Australian has got what it takes to finish at the pointy end of the field when the race finishes in Rome on May 31.
"So many people forget about him when they list the favourites for this Giro d'Italia and some have laughed at me when I've said 'he's the number one in my mind'. but I maintain it," Silence-Lotto's Damiani told Cyclingnews.
Damiani was Rogers' first directeur sportif in the professional ranks from his days in the Mapei squad back in 2001, and the experienced Italian indicated just how much he rates his former protégé before the start of stage three in Grado.
"He's the highest ranked of the favourites," Damiani continued, citing the results where Rogers is currently third - sitting behind two sprinters - while Lance Armstrong is the second of the favourites in fifth, 13 seconds behind the Australian.
With Danilo Di Luca 22 seconds behind Rogers on general classification, the Italian is tipped to take over the pink jersey from team-mate Alessandro Petacchi. The climb of San Martino on the Giro's fourth stage is suited to his strengths but first he must overcome the possile challenge from Rogers, who showed his cards by finishing eighth in the slightly uphill finish in Valdobbiadene.
Rogers' constant high placings have been noticed by the experts during the lead up to the Giro; the man from Canberra became Australian Open Road Time Trial Champion in January and finished sixth at the Tour Down Under, third at the Tour of California and eighth at the Tour of the Basque Country.
Rogers had been considered a possible Grand Tour winner following the retirement of Armstrong and rode in service of Andreas Klöden in the 2006 Tour de France, where he took ninth overall. His crash during the 2007 Tour de France was the turning point of his career, followed by a bout of Epstein-Barr virus, which put him out of action for most of 2008. Damiani realises that Rogers has now recovered the physical attributes that make him a possible Grand Tour champion.
"The course of this year's Giro suits him a lot," he added. "Everybody picks Levi Leipheimer as the man for the time trial of Cinque Terre but on a distance that exceeds 60 kilometres there won't be much difference between Rogers and him. Don't forget that Michael is a three-time world champion in the individual time trial!"