Deflection is so often the default setting for a rider in a pre-race press conference, which makes Pavel Sivakov’s frank appraisal of his Giro d’Italia aspirations all the more striking. Egan Bernal wears number one on his back and sets out from Turin as Ineos’ leading option, but Sivakov has the freedom to nurture lofty general classification ambitions of his own and he sees no reason to hide them.
Anything can happen over three weeks in Italy and sometimes it does. Last October, after all, Tao Geoghegan Hart left Palermo as Geraint Thomas’ domestique and arrived in Milan 23 days later as a most unexpected Giro champion. Sivakov, sixth at the recent Tour of the Alps, admitted that he had visualised the prospect of contesting the pink jersey in the third week.
“I mean, I wish, I dream about it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be at the start. Why not, you know?” Sivakov told reporters in a video call on Thursday.
“There are a lot of riders here who dream about the pink jersey. Of course, I’ve got that somewhere in my mind, but it’s also three weeks long and we don’t know how everyone is feeling. It’s hard to tell now. It’s the million dollar question, you know, who is going to be in pink in three weeks.
“I will do my best. If I’m good enough, then why not fight for it? If not, then the situation will change and I’ll do my job for the team. But otherwise, as a GC rider, I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t dream about it. If you don’t think about the win when you go to a race, it’s not a good way of thinking. Why not?”
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Sivakov underlined his current form with sixth overall at the Tour of the Alps, whereas Bernal’s precise condition is less evident. He hasn’t raced since placing a distant 4th at Tirreno-Adriatico in March and it is unclear how much he is still impeded by the back injury that ended his Tour de France challenge prematurely last season.
On the other hand, Bernal bears the most robust Grand Tour credentials, having won the Tour in 2019, while Sivakov’s best display across three weeks was his 9th place finish in that year’s Giro. The Russian has no misgivings about his place in the Ineos hierarchy as the Giro gets underway.
“Egan wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t ready. We all know that he’s here and one of the favourites,” Sivakov said. “He will be the number one, he won the Tour. I still have a lot to prove to be up there among the big GC favourites over three weeks. I’ve been 9th in 2019, but there is a massive difference between being 9th and fighting for the win, I would say.”
Still, it doesn’t cost anything to dream and Ineos, too, have learned from last season, where their leaders at both the Tour and Giro were forced out prematurely through injury. While Geoghegan Hart retrieved a seemingly lost cause at the Giro, the team’s Tour challenge ended with Bernal’s abandon. Ineos will thus aim to keep both Sivakov and Bernal high on general classification through the opening phase of the race before the high mountains serve as the ultimate arbiter.
“At the moment the plan is not to lose time in the first week and then see what happens. That’s our strength: we have a lot of cards to play,” said Sivakov. “There’s me and Egan, and Dani Martinez is also in really good shape now.
Sivakov noted, too, that the seconds won and lost in the opening ten days here rarely weigh quite as heavily as they do at the Tour. With the key difficulties of the Giro again shoehorned into the second half of the race this year, early setbacks are hardly irreparable when the gaps might be measured in minutes come the tappone over the Pordoi and Giau, or the summit finish to Sega di Ala.
“In the last years, we’ve seen that riders who lost quite a bit of ground in the first week were able to bounce back and win the Giro in the last week,” said Sivakov. “In the Tour de France, you don’t really see that so often. Sometimes, when a rider is a bit off there in the first week he’s kind of out of the game, But here in the Giro, it’s really unpredictable. You’re maybe more allowed to make a little mistake in the first week. Ok, you’re going to pay a bit for sure, but you can gain back some time.
With Filippo Ganna, Jonathan Castroviejo, Gianni Moscon, Salvatore Puccio and Jhonatan Narváez completing their line-up, Ineos have arguably the greatest strength in depth of any team at this Giro, though their collective might will be tested by men like Simon Yates, João Almeida and, perhaps, Remco Evenepoel. A race with so many possible winners presents myriad tactical permutations, but Sivakov has learned enough about Grand Tours in his short career to understand one immutable truth.
“You don’t need to focus on any [other] riders. Just worry about yourself, do your race and see what happens,” Sivakov said. “At the end of the day, the strongest rider will probably win. That’s how it is.”
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