Simon Yates wants to wear the favourites tag for this year’s Giro d’Italia.
The 26-year-old spent two weeks in the leader’s pink jersey last year before cracking in the mountains just as Chris Froome was launching the stunning solo attack which propelled him to victory.
Yates has made the Giro his primary focus this season, speaking of unfinished business in Italy.
And though he has seen the bookmakers turn their attention to Slovenian Primoz Roglic in recent weeks, the Lancastrian is having none of it.
Asked on Friday who was the favourite to win the Giro, Yates simply said: “I am.”
A strong case can certainly be made.
Yates learned his lessons from the Giro and took them to Spain in September, riding to glory in La Vuelta to win his first grand tour.
Though Roglic arrives in Italy with the form – having won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Romandy this season – Yates has the calibre and experience.
“I’m going back to the Giro to win it, 100 percent,” the Mitchelton-Scott rider told Press Association Sport.
“I really want it but you never know what will happen at a race – if you’ll have some bad luck or not be in peak condition – so if I don’t win, that’s OK. I just have to control what I do.”
Few expected Yates to hold pink as long as he did last year, and the experience surprised the man himself as much as anyone else.
Though he has second places in Romandy and Paris-Nice to his name, the Vuelta was Yates’ first ever stage race win, and there was plenty he was not prepared for.
“There are lots of responsibilities that come with leading a big race that people might not be aware of – things like the podium presentation and media interviews,” he said.
“You end up travelling back to the hotel two hours after your team-mates so you eat alone and get to bed later.
“There’s a build-up of stress and it’s one of the reasons I ultimately failed last year.”
Yates adapted his routine in Spain, making sure he ate before podium presentations and travelling back to the hotel in a van rather than a car.
“It might seem like a strange thing to say but when you’ve done 250km on a bike, but being able to stretch your legs out is massive,” he said.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Yates to stretch his legs on the 3,518-kilometre route which awaits over the next three weeks.
As is a characteristic of the Giro so often, the route is back-loaded, with no serious mountain days until stage 13, and all the major challenges in the final week.
That will allow time for many riders to come into form, though the challenge for Roglic is to keep his.
The Jumbo-Visma rider showed his potential with fourth place at the Tour de France last year, and if he is in pink in Verona on June 2 people may finally stop talking about him as a former ski jumper and focus on his cycling.
Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, who was second in both the Giro and the Tour last year, is the other major contender on the start-line, and with a time trial to start in Bologna he could find himself in pink on Saturday night.
Team Ineos have brought a young team with Froome and Geraint Thomas focused on the Tour de France.
Emerging Colombian star Egan Bernal had been tagged for the leadership role until he broke his collarbone in a training crash last week, leaving the team to hunt stages and give experience to the likes of Londoner Tao Geoghegan Hart and Russian Pavel Sivakov.
The pair enjoyed an outstanding Tour of the Alps last month, the team’s last race as Team Sky, with Sivakov taking the overall and Hart winning two stages.
“The Tour of the Alps has made me quite confident,” Hart said.
“Pavel and I enjoyed the race. It was our first time to be the centre of attention with podium ceremonies and press conferences and coming to the hotel one hour after our team-mates.”