Basso considered favorite heading into Giro d'Italia

Updated: May 5, 2006, 4:38 PM ET

LIEGE, Belgium -- Italy's Ivan Basso has attempted to play down the hype around him before the start of the Giro d'Italia in Belgium on Saturday.

After finishing second behind Lance Armstrong in last year's Tour de France, Basso is now considered the best stage-race rider in cycling after the American's retirement and a hot favorite for the Giro.

"I don't feel the No. 1 favorite but just one of favorites," he said in a press conference on Friday. "I'd be pretentious to think I can win the time trial and then defend the lead in the mountains.

"There is a group of four or five riders that are ready and motivated to try and win the Giro. I'm one of them because I know I've worked hard and we've got a strong team but I'm relaxed about the next three weeks," he said.

Basso has constantly improved and developed as a rider since joining the CSC team in 2004. He is now strong in both time trials and in the mountains.

"There's been a steady progression in my ability over the years and now I also have more confidence and believe in my own ability," he said.

"I'm going to ride my own race in the next three weeks and not get stressed out about my rivals because that burns your brain out. This Giro is going to be hard for everyone and so may the best man win," he said.

The Giro starts on with a 3.9-mile individual time trial in the southern Belgian town of Seraing. The race will then transfer to Italy on Wednesday for the remaining 17 stages, ending in Milan on May 28.