The Saxo Bank SunGard and Leopard Trek press conferences may have attracted the bumper crowds at the press centre in Les Herbiers, but Rabobank's Robert Gesink had no complaints about coming into the Tour de France under the radar when he faced a decidedly thinner audience on Friday afternoon.
"For me it's perfect like this, I think I get enough attention," Gesink joked. "You guys talk about Andy [Schleck] and Contador and we will see in the end where I go."
The Dutchman finished 6th overall last year and he refused to put any limits on his ambitions for 2011 as he seeks to improve on that showing. After a sparkling early-season purple patch, Gesink had stalled somewhat by the time the Ardennes classics rolled around, but a solid finish to the Critérium du Dauphiné last month suggested that he was back on track for July.
"Of course we start the Tour with the aim of doing a good general classification," Gesink said. "I want to do better than last year. I was sixth then and now I want to do better. It's difficult to put a number on it. I hope I'll be able to get on the podium of course, just like everybody. But that's something that I can't really say anything about right now, we'll see in the next three weeks."
With Andy Schleck over age for the young rider classification this year, Gesink is the favourite to carry the white jersey to Paris, ahead of the likes of Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and Rein Taamarae (Cofidis). However, he reiterated that his primary focus was on finishing as high up the general classification as possible.
"I think the goal is of course the yellow jersey and then the white is the second present that you get," Gesink said. "But to be honest, it's my last opportunity for the white jersey, so that's an extra goal you're looking at. The GC is the most important."
As a man whose heart lies in the rarefied atmosphere of the Alps and the Pyrenees, Gesink is all too aware that his Tour could come undone during the race's frenetic opening week. An early crash in 2009 ended his race prematurely, but Gesink will be hoping that a strong escort of Rabobank rouleurs can keep him out of trouble ahead of the mountains.
"The whole Tour is important and every day can be dangerous, but of course the first days are really important in that sense," Gesink admitted.
Rabobank's strength on the flat should also benefit Gesink in Sunday's team time trial, and he revealed that the Dutch squad had already received a psychological boost from their reconnaissance on Thursday morning.
"Yesterday we did the parcours twice and we felt really good," Gesink said. "We overtook the guys from Saxo Bank twice, so the mental battle started already yesterday."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.