Ivan Basso may be the only Italian with a reasonable shot at winning the Giro d'Italia, but the Liquigas-Doimo captain is diverting the pressure from himself by claiming his form is behind schedule.
After his teammate Franco Pellizotti was found by the UCI to be in violation of the biological passport parameters, Basso now finds himself along with Pellizotti's replacement Vincenzo Nibali as the team's co-captain.
"Nibali is a young rider with great talent," Basso said. "He rode an excellent Tour de France last year [placing 7th overall - ed]. He's got class. He can also do a good Giro." Nibali's late inclusion on the Liquigas line up for the Giro might give Italian fans something to cheer for.
Giro d'Italia organisers RCS Sport asked six fomer Grand Tour champions to attend the pre-race press conference at the headquarters near the Olympic stadium of Amsterdam: Gilberto Simoni (Giro 2001 and 2003), Alexandre Vinokourov (Vuelta 2006), Ivan Basso (Giro 2006), Carlos Sastre (Tour 2008), Damiano Cunego (Giro 2004) and Stefano Garzelli (Giro 2000) met alongside world champion Cadel Evans who has been awarded the back number 1 in the absence of defending champion Denis Menchov.
As Simoni, Cunego and Garzelli have ruled out their ambitions for GC, Basso remains the only Italian among the race favourites, with last year's runner-up Danilo Di Luca, 2008 climbing sensations Riccardo Ricco and Emanuele Sella and Pellizotti absent for various doping-related issues. Basso declined to comment on his teammate's situation.
"I won't say anything more about him than what has been said at the press conference earlier this week," Basso said, although he repeated that he's been giving "full transparency and credibility" to the cycling community since he returned to racing in October, 2008 after an 18-month suspension.
Basso made clear that his goal is the same as he expressed going into last year's race. "I come to the Giro to win," he told the media. "But I arrive with a condition that is a bit below what I expected. Hopefully in a period of three weeks I'll reach my best level. I'll give my best anyway. If I can't fight for the pink jersey, I'll fight for second or third place."
He also transferred all the pressure of being a hot favourite on Evans' shoulders. "He has come on the podium of the Tour de France twice, he's the world champion and he just won the Flèche Wallonne, it's impossible not to put him as a favourite!"
Evans recalled that starting the Tour de France as the hot favourite didn't work to his advantage in 2008. The mental game has started at the Giro!