Cycling: Sir Bradley Wiggins preparing for start of the Giro d'Italia
The Tour de France winner has placed his focus on this race which begins in Naples tomorrow
Sir Bradley Wiggins will begin his bid to cement his legendary status with victory in the Giro d'Italia, which begins in Naples tomorrow.
Ten years after making his Grand Tour debut at the Tour of Italy, Wiggins is the favourite for the pink jersey awarded to the race winner as he bids to add the Giro title to his 2012 Tour de France triumph.
"Ten years ago I was about to start my first Grand Tour," Wiggins said.
"It was daunting and it was a different era. The likes of (Mario) Cipollini were riding, (Marco) Pantani.
"Ten years on to be going there to try to win the thing, I'd never have imagined that 10 years ago. It seemed so hard at the time. It's worlds apart.
"It's just a new challenge. I won the Tour last year and a lot of other races.
"I've never won the Giro. It's something I'd love to add to my palmares [cycling CV] when I retire.
"I think it puts you into a different bracket of cyclist."
The mention of Pantani prompts discussion of the double - an attempt at victory in the Giro and Tour in the same year.
Few have done it - seven, in fact, including Ireland's Stephen Roche in 1987 - with Italian Pantani, whose life came to such a tragic end, the most recent to have achieved the feat, in 1998.
Wiggins' stated aim is to win the Giro's maglia rosa, then travel to Corsica five weeks later to begin the defence of the Tour's yellow jersey - a subject which has sparked much conjecture this week, given his Team Sky colleague Chris Froome is also targeting the maillot jaune.
First Wiggins must win the Giro, which is no easy task on a 3,400-kilometre route, where his rivals include defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who was third behind Wiggins and Froome at the 2012 Tour.
Wiggins admits anything less than victory will be unsatisfactory.
"There will be an element of disappointment if I don't do it, because I've been building to this," the 33-year-old Londoner said.
"Two years ago I would never have even imagined trying to win the Giro, because it was always about trying to win the Tour, or get on the podium at the Tour.
"At the moment all the focus is on the Giro and you really don't think about the Tour until you get that hurdle out of the way first before we start worrying about the second.
"The main thing is to win the Giro. That's the first big hurdle. At this stage, I don't look beyond that. It's like the first gold in the Olympics."
Four-time Olympic champion Wiggins believes Nibali is the favourite, but will not discount any of his challengers.
"When you race in the mountains and people are at their limits, you see what people are capable of," Wiggins said.
"You're up close and personal a lot of the time in bike racing. You really do see everything.
"Vincenzo I know his strengths and weaknesses as he probably knows mine, or thinks he does.
"This race is more suited to him and it's his pride and joy. There's a lot of stake for him.
"He's the big Italian favourite and he's trained for this, this is his event. He's not doing the Tour after it - this is his one big event.
"I think he's in better shape than he's ever been, definitely. And he's got everything, all the attributes.
"I don't fear him, I respect him. I know his strengths and I know his weaknesses. I won't underestimate him.
"I think he's the man to beat."
Canadian Hesjedal is the defending champion and another Wiggins will not discount.
"None of them I underestimate, but Hesjedal in particular," Wiggins said.
While Wiggins' target is the maglia rosa in Brescia on May 26, his former Team Sky colleague Mark Cavendish could take the first pink jersey of the race in Naples tomorrow.
The prolific sprinter will lead Omega Pharma-QuickStep at the Giro, with stage wins and the points classification the aim.
The second day features a team time-trial, which could see the lead change hands, before a bumpy first week and the first long time-trial on the second Saturday.
"It's less predictable than the Tour, the pattern of racing," said Wiggins, who has been working on his climbing, given the severity of the Italian mountain slopes.
"The challenges come a lot earlier in the race. You don't get that traditional one week of sprint stages.
"There's no time to roll in to the finish. Right until the last Saturday it's win or lose. Right to the death."
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